Maybe Esther

Katja Petrowskaja

The moving story of one family’s entanglement with twentieth-century history


Katja Petrowskaja’s family story is inextricably entangled with 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. There is her Ukrainian grandfather, who disappeared during World War II and reappeared forty years later. And there is her great-grandmother – whose name may or may not have been Esther – who was too old and frail to leave Kiev when the Jews there were rounded up, and was killed by a Nazi outside her house.

Taking the reader from Berlin to Warsaw, to Moscow, to Kiev, from Google searches, strange encounters and coincidences to archives, anecdotes and jokes, Katja Petrowskaja undertakes a journey in search of her own place in past and present, memory and history, languages and countries. The result is Maybe Esther – a singular, haunting, 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. 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. 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