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Nine Suitcases [Hardcover]

Bela Zsolt , Ladislaus Lob
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 2004
Concentrating on his experiences in the ghetto of Nagyvarad and as a forced labourer in the Ukraine, Zsolt provides a rare insight into Hungarian fascism, but also a shocking exposure of the cruelty, indifference, selfishness, cowardice and betrayal of which human beings are capable in extreme circumstances.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; 1st Edition edition (1 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224063057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224063050
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,291,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Nine Suitcases is Bela Zsolt's memoir of the Holocaust--his personal experiences in the Hungarian ghetto of Nagyvarad and as a forced labourer in the Ukraine is as tragic as it is moving. Zsolt's writing forces us past the simplicities of good versus evil and shows the awful human weaknesses, personal complicities and daily heroism and tragedy of war at its most brutal.

The difficulties and dangers of Holocaust literature are legion. (What could or should Holocaust literature be? Has Adorno's warning--no poetry after Auschwitz--been misunderstood or forgotten?) Norman G Finkelstein's provocative The Holocaust Industry has brought our attention to the difference between memorialising Nazi genocide and learning real historical lessons. But Nine Suitcases hugely deserves its publication and can fully stand alongside the work of Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel's Night. Originally published in weekly instalments, Zsolt describes in detail how he came to be in the ghetto (and the significance of those eponymous suitcases), his work as a gravedigger and labourer (ironically, in 1942, force to fight alongside the Germans); the bravery of a local Madame in serving her Jewish prostitutes; his feelings towards his Orthodox fellow inmates; and his plan to pretend a Typhus outbreak. And all of this is done with a matter-of-fact simplicity and without rhetorical flourishes or indulgences. This is an important, great book. Sometimes, Zsolt says, in the ghetto there was "a silence that provoke(d) prayer or blasphemy". We should read Zsolt and, in the ensuing quiet, decide anew what our strategies for learning and understanding should be. --Mark Thwaite


"[A] heartbreaking memoir... Unbearably immediate" (Laurence Phelan Independent on Sunday)

"A sombre yet strangely beautiful account, devoid of sentimentality...the recent publication of his work in English is long overdue" (Phil Baker Sunday Times)

"Remarkable...exceptional" (Caroline Moorehead Times Literary Supplement)

"This is by far the best book I've come across on the subject of the extermination of Hungary's Jews" (Tibor Fischer Guardian)

"Very, very rarely you read something that knocks the breath out of you... This masterpiece does" (Carole Angier Literary Review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nine Suitcases by Bela Zsolt 15 Jun 2008
Bela Zsolt's Nine Suitcases is a memoir of the Holocaust in wartime Hungary. The author, a Hungarian writer of Jewish background, begins recounting his tale from the wartime ghetto in Nagyvarad (now in modern-day Romania). From his confinement in the ghetto hospital, Zsolt describes a Jewish community stricken with poverty and panic. There is talk of euthanasia amongst Jews in order to prevent further mutilation and debasement of their bodies. Despite the looming threat of deportation to concentration camps the community remains fractious, with children chafing at family penury and individuals attempting to curry small favours with their tormentors. The imprisoned Jews hide their valuables in the vain hope of recovering them when they are free men. They yearn for escape but have nowhere to go, even when the door is held open for them. It is a desperately grim position.

Rather than laying out his story in a straightforward chronological fashion, Zsolt turns his narrative back and forth in time. In on of the most powerful passages in the book, he tells the story of his deportation to Russia as if he is still in the ghetto talking to his friend Friedlander, adding details every now and again about the developments in the ghetto affecting himself and his friend. Like the other narrative threads in Nine Suitcases, this is all revived in clear and compelling prose. Zsolt adopts a detached, dispassionate tone for much of Nine Suitcases, reflecting the hopelessness and exhaustion that came upon him in the ghetto. His calm description of Jews being hoarded onto cattle wagons for deportation to the concentration camps is truly chilling.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Possession of What Matters 27 Jan 2004
Poignant is a word often used of Holocaust literature and yet it fails to capture exactly the measure of this classy autobiography. The author, a journalist and critic before the war, never abandons his masterful journalistic restraint while buzzing between the various situations in which he finds himself in the aftermath of capture, yet we feel his seething anger oozing through the ironic description, an anger which dissipates into resignation. Perhaps feisty would be more appropriate.
If Holocaust literature is concerned with the motivation of the German authorities, Zsolt's tome is more concerned with the reasons why the ordinary peasantry, like his Hungarian gendarme companion, consents to participate in the outrages, and the equally enigmatic question of why the Jews failed to resist or escape when they had the opportunity. Rightly, it is a book of questions and pastiches, rather than easy answers, but when the latter is proffered it is generally in confirmation of the reader's own suspicions.
The translator's prose style is impeccable, lucid and becoming, and the words and pages seemed to fly past at twice my standard reading pace.
In short, splash out your week's wages if necessary, but you won't be disappointed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable book 2 Sep 2010
I have never read a book quite like this.
The translation into English has been done so well and this makes the reading so much richer.
The sentences are often long which is his slyle but the content is just incredible.
It casts a whole different light to the getto reality in the 1943-44 period and the depth of observation and detail of the many moments is so humbling.
Now its difficult to empathise with the madness of the nazi indoctrination and the hate of the many peasants for the jews.
I will have to read this again as its so so full of rich writing.
Its not full of the brutality but more the other forces which were so much more terrifying.
If you want to read and understand about life around the gettos this is a must.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courageous Survivors Tale 14 Feb 2013
This book is the account of how Bela Zsolt mananged to survive what was Hungry's darkest hours in the Second World War.

The title of the book is taken from the number of suitcases his wife took when they tried to escape the coming war by taking a train to Paris and then on. But she was only allowed to take one Suitcase from the onward journey and because they could not take all nine suitcases went back to Hungry.

This is a remarkable story of survival against the odds and unusual in that it records the efforts of the Hungarian Jews to survive not only the Nazis but also Hungry's own fascists.

This really is a book about survival during Europe's darkest hour but at times the dark humour keeps people going. I would recommend this book because it is intense and written with feeling and hope.
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