Book Review: 'Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman'

Critic Alan Cheuse reviews Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman by Minka Pradelski. He says it's a delightful novel that's a fascinating mix of comedy and pathos.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

One day, German writer and filmmaker Minka Pradelski was interviewing a Holocaust survivor. When the interview finished, he asked something of her: never to forget the town where he grew up, Bedzin in Poland. Pradelski was moved by the request, and now she memorializes the town in a new novel, her first.

Alan Cheuse has our review of "Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman."

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: First comes the narrator, Tsippy Silberberg, who flies from her home in Frankfurt on a brief mission to Tel Aviv. An aunt of hers has died and left her some silver utensils, and she's come to claim them. Tsippy has a little trouble with her hotel reservation, but nothing really fazes her until she meets the loquacious Mrs. Kugelman, who haunts the seaside hotel and, like a Polish-born ancient mariner, barges into Tsippy's room and tells her, in nearly endless anecdotes, the story of her hometown, a place near the Polish-German border called Bedzin.

The poor, the rich and everyone in between from this Edenic location - the children, the doctors, the factory owners, Zionists and communists, peasants and educators - all come to life in Mrs. Kugelman's charming and persuasive vignettes about schoolgirl love, including herself when she was a little blonde girl in braids, Hassidim playing poker on Christmas, romances crossing class lines and ethnic lines in this place that momentarily seems to Tsippy, while Mrs. Kugelman tells her stories, like some fabled land of milk and honey.

You really should stop making your town so perfect, Tsippy says to Mrs. Kugelman. That's the way Bedzin was, the older woman says. Soon enough, time begins to darken and move towards September 1939, when the Nazis invade Poland, and this diminutive Polish version of "Our Town" turns into a fascinating mix of comedy and pathos, a narrative memorial about lives lived no more and a way of life murderously destroyed.

How Tsippy discovers her own ties to this lost town will come as a charming surprise. American readers, Jews or non-Jews, will find that Bedzin belongs to them, as well.

BLOCK: The novel is "Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman" by Minka Pradelski. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.