The Postcard by Anne Berest

Once a year our book club reads a book in translation. This year, that book was The Postcard by Anne Berest, translated from the French by Tina Kover published in 2023. It is a semi-biographical novel that tells the history of the author’s family. Her grandmother received the titular postcard in 2003. On it were the names of her mother, father, sister, and brother who were all murdered in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. The story opens with the author’s mother showing her the postcard and then going on to tell her the history of the people on the postcard until they were deported from France by the Vichy government. The rest of the tale is the author’s journey to discover who sent the postcard and why.

This book was a mixed bag. The writing was vivid, really connecting with lived experience. The translator must be credited with taking the original French and making it feel like it was written in English. A sample: “Her legs feel as if they’re still vibrating from the train, the same way the ground seems to shift and heave after a boat trip.” On the other hand, the characters feel a little too stuck. Or maybe the author just dwells on a particular aspect of a character a bit too long, making it feel like they are a little unreasonable. For instance, despite the growing restrictions on Jews in Vichy France, the father on the postcard insists on doing everything the government asks of him in the hopeless effort to become a French citizen. In the end, he willfully and meekly goes with the police when he is finally arrested and deported. It made me want to scream at the book, “What are you doing!?” I suppose that this sort of thing really did happen, but it just left me empty, sad, and a little angry.

The conclusion of the book comes a bit too quickly for my taste. There is a revelation and then it feels as if the book just ends. It does tell the complete history of a family’s experience of the Holocaust and its aftermath, and for that is unique and valuable. But overall this book was only okay. I liked it. But I didn’t love it.

My rating: 3/5

One thought on “The Postcard by Anne Berest

  1. So, this about sums up my feelings. I felt I was “supposed to” like it more than I did. We’ll discuss more in book club.

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