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Heshel's Kingdom Hardcover – 16 Feb 1998

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Ltd; First Edition edition (16 Feb. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241139279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241139271
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.6 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 971,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In 1919 a Lithuanian rabbi named Heshel Melamed unexpectedly died, leaving behind a widow and nine young children. A tragedy, surely. Yet his death, in forcing his penniless family to emigrate to South Africa, inadvertently saved their lives, for between 1941 and 1945, 95 per Cent of the Lithuanian Jewish population were executed by the Nazis and unbearably, their Lithuanian "assistants". There can be little doubt that Heshel and his family would have been murdered, and this is the starting point for Dan Jacobson, the grandson of Heshel; "By evoking the shadow of my grandfather, I hope to discover elements in his life and mine which are now hidden from me".

Heshel's Kingdom, in part, is an account of Jacobson's pilgrimage with his son to Lithuania. They find little remaining pre-1941; however, his novelistic eye takes in the topography of the landscape, and his systematic rendering of it in prose--the numerous bridges, dusty tracks- -is the process he discovers for absorbing something of the environs Heshel would have known. Time is a constant theme, present in the irrecoverable nature of the past, and the ironical prism of perspective Jacobson has at his disposal. As the book draws to its close his tone, which has been masterfully terse and angular, takes on a barely suppressed, glacial anger as he visits one massacre site after another, meeting each village's "one surviving Jew". He identifies the legacy of the Nazis to present day Germans as a suspicion of themselves which may never completely vanish; the overriding legacy of Heshel to his grandson was his life. With this challengingly personal book--not autobiography, travel journal, history tome or detective story, though with elements of them all--Jacobson offers something back to his past, and also to a universal present. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A seamless and tautly written narrative. . . . What we are finally left with is neither a history lesson nor a neatly unfolding drama but simply--not so very simply--an experience which has been lived through, more fully understood than it could ever have been from the outside, and transmuted, thanks to the quality of the writing, into a work of art."--"Daily Telegraph" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Oct. 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book begins with the premise that if the author's grandfather had not died then the author would never have been born. A seemingly strange premise but, by the book's end the reader realises how totally and horribly true the premise is. Jacobson tackles a subject which he has to deal with in both an historical and autobigraphical context. Hitler's "treatment" of Jews in World War 11 is a subject which has been the subject of countless books but, in this book, Jacobson takes a unique approach. He charts the family tree of his own family and up until World War 11 not a lot seems to happen apart from the usual attempt to escape from poverty so familiar to the many peasant peoples of Europe. The only other notable feature is the ghettoisation or setting apart of the Jewish communities in Europe. By the time Jacobson embarks on his search for his roots he is well aware of the historical events which have taken place but is unaware of their reality. The narrative which can sometimes be tedious is apallingly moving in that the destruction described is the destruction of ordinary things. The things which make life seem normal, roads, communities, towns, graveyards,public records and so on cease to exist and it is almost impossible to understand why they are gone. How can a centuries old graveyard suddenly cease to operate because no one is left to die? For someone unfamiliar with the Jewish history of the WW11 era Jacobson paints a very basic summary.For those who are familiar with it Jacobson brings it alive and asks difficult questions about the future history of the Jewish people. Ultimately this book asks us to remember not so much how these peple lived but how they died. It also asks us to prevent any similar recurrences for any group and highlights the failures of the international comunity in this regard in the recent past.Not a pleasant read but I wouldn't have missed it fotr the world.
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By Mrs F Winn on 10 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
catching up on an important work
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Sensitive search for family roots 11 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a South African living in Europe with a similar and yet in many ways different background, I am able to identify with Mr Jacobson's sensitive account of his search for his family roots in Lithuania. The construction of the work itself is a masterpiece: first his perception of Lithuania from South Africa, then his childhood in South Africa and then the encounter with Lithuania, where he finds nothing concrete and yet conveys the atmosphere of what he finds so movingly. The touching letter to his grandfather and his dream at the end are full of feeling and yet not in the least sentimental. This book has deeply impressed me and given me a wonderfully tragic picture of Lithuania.
Heshel's kingdom; the story of a Lithuanian Jewish Family 24 Feb. 2015
By Mrs. Mira Zeimer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A wonderful story of the history of the Lithuanian Jews and how they arrived in South Africa. Beautifully written and reads like a novel
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