A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski

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9780393324457: A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski

A searing account of the rise and fall of the author of Fragments, told by a descendant of the Wilkomirskis of Riga.

In 1997, Binjamin Wilkomirski arrived in New York to read from his prize-winning book Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, his memoir of an early childhood lost to the concentration camps at Majdanek and Auschwitz, and to raise money for the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. This orphaned survivor also came as the guest of honor to the family reunion of the Wilburs (once Wilkomirskis). The Wilburs hoped to trace the unrecorded link between the Wilkomirskis of Riga in Latvia and the name that Binjamin remembered. The Wilburs and the media embraced Binjamin as a humanitarian whose eloquent story typified that of many child survivors.

One year later, however, Binjamin was publicly accused of being a gentile imposter: on August 27, 1998, a German novelist named Daniel Ganzfried announced to the world that he had uncovered documentary evidence proving that Fragments was an elaborate fiction. Yet Binjamin still insisted his wartime memories carried more weight than the documents against him, proclaiming, "Nobody has to believe me." Those who continued to believe Binjamin included child survivors, psychotherapists, and his publishers.

Who was Binjamin Wilkomirski? Why would someone want to be him? And why would so many of us want to believe him? Wilbur family member Blake Eskin recounts the dispute over Binjamin's authenticity through reportage, interviews with Binjamin's acquaintances, and a visit to Riga in search of actual Wilkomirski relatives. In his absorbing narrative Eskin records the reactions of the media, the child-survivor community, and the Wilburs themselves to reveal larger disagreements over the reliability of memory, the value of testimony, and the individual's relationship to history.

Part biography, part mystery, and part memoir, Eskin's A Life in Pieces is an important and lasting contribution to the literature of the Holocaust. 7 b/w photographs

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About the Author:

Blake Eskin has written for The New Yorker, the Forward, and other publications. He lives in New York City.

From Publishers Weekly:

HWhen Binjamin Wilkomirski published his childhood Holocaust memoir, Fragments, in 1996, it was met with both popular and critical praise. Soon, however, people began to voice concern over its authenticity , which ended in a full-fledged debunking on 60 Minutes in 1999. While much has been written about Wilkomirski, this stunning analysis by journalist Eskin is not only the best and most compelling account of the case, but places it in a broader social, political and cultural context that raises vital issues about history, identity, as well as personal and political responsibility. While the frame of the book is a fascinating personal memoir/journalistic investigation (Eskin's family, immigrant Jews from Latvia, contact Wilkomirski thinking they might be related to him), the power of the work comes from the author's ability to marshal the central arguments over Wilkomirski's life and work in order to illuminate the more important and interesting question of how humans deal with trauma. Moving from the specific, Eskin touches on such broader and controversial topics as what happens when Holocaust memoirs are exposed as fiction, thus giving fuel to Holocaust deniers; how Wilkomirski's book helped assuage Swiss guilt over Switzerland's actions during WWII; how Holocaust literature has become emblematic of human suffering, allowing even non-Holocaust survivors to identify with and take on the metaphors of "the survivor." This is brought home in Eskin's discussion of Lauren Grabowski, a Christian woman posing as a Jewish survivor who, under the name of Lauren Stratford, wrote an enormously popular, and discredited, memoir of child sexual abuse, Satan's Underground. A mixture of thrilling detective work and astute cultural criticism, this is an important contribution to Holocaust literature as well as to studies of psychological and cultural trauma. (Feb.)Forecast: This is bound to get major media attention, as Wilkomirski's story did, and will have brisk sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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