Katja Petrowskaja’s family story is impossible to untangle from the history of twentieth-century Europe. There is her great-uncle, who shot a German diplomat in Moscow in 1932 and was sentenced to death. (Could this act have had more significance than anyone at the time understood?) There is her Ukrainian grandfather, who disappeared during World War II and reappeared without explanation forty-one years later. (How was it that he then went back to normal family life, as though nothing had happened?) And there is her great-grandmother (was she really called Esther?) who was too old and frail to leave Kiev when the Jews there were rounded up, and was brutally killed by the Nazis on the street.
Taking the reader from Moscow to Kiev to Warsaw to Berlin, and deep into archives and pieced-together conversations, photos and memories, Maybe Esther is a journey into language, memory, philosophy, history and trauma, and a singular, beautiful, unforgettable work of literature.
Reviews of Maybe Esther
‘Unflinchingly potent … Revolutionaries, war heroes, teachers and phantoms populate these magnetic pages’ Irish Independent
‘Rich, intriguing … Maybe Esther calls to mind the itinerant style of W. G. Sebald’ Guardian
‘Intensely involving … a fervent meditation on love and loss, with a remarkable cast of characters’ Financial Times
‘Mesmerising. It is writing that dazzles … deeply thoughtful and with insights that flash like sharp implements’ New Statesman
‘There’s a literary miracle on every page here, the sort of book that makes you fall in love with reading. There’s poetry and politics in this family memoir, but most of all there’s the pleasure of being in the company of Petrowskaja’s talent. A Proust for the Google age’ Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible
‘This intimately told quest into the darkness of the 20th century is luminously unforgettable. The rich humanism of Petrowskaja’s gaze, her many-cultured, good-humoured sensitivity, and her visionary use of the themes that emerge from her family’s histories – silence, muteness, disguise, survival – infuse this book with the qualities of a classic. Maybe Esther, on her civilising journey ‘against time’, will stay with me forever’ Kapka Kassabova, author of Border
‘Rarely is research into family history this exciting, this moving. If this were a novel it would seem exaggerated and unbelievable. This is great literature’ Der Spiegel
‘Modern German literature is richer for this intelligent, flamboyant and extremely original voice’ Die Zeit