Good People by Nir Baram

Review published on May 13, 2017.

Good People is an interesting book from the Israeli writer Nir Baram, who has created a novel of complexity, and its timing could not be more relevant now. Baram in one review has been compared to Dostoevsky and, while I would not go that far, he certainly not afraid to tackle controversial subjects and make the reader think.

As someone from Polish stock whose family were affected by arrest in one part of the NKVD in eastern Poland and subsequent ‘exile’, to other members who were involved in the defence of Poland, captured and then escaped to fight again, this period has always been of interest. It also raises the question of what would I do, and by using both the Soviet and Nazi backdrop, you get that either on the extreme left and right are all similar in ways, and always subjugate the population.

The novel opens in 1938, on the eve of war. Sasha, in Leningrad, works for the NKVD writing the confessions of those arrested, and has grown up eavesdropping on her parent’s literary salon, which will eventually send them to the gulag. Fearing for her own safety she marries Maxim Podolsky, who is also a member of the NKVD and who can protect her from arrest.

Thomas has built a career in Berlin working for an American advertising company and watches as the Nazi takeover of Germany takes place and the Jews are rounded up and disappear. Thomas eventually uses his skills to assist the Nazi regime, especially in the east with the approaching non-aggression pact, which would make for the carve up of Poland.

Both Sasha and Thomas have grand plans for their lives and neither has ever concerned themselves about politics. Eventually, both are forced to take note of politics by events outside of their control, which will bring them together, and they will have face the consequences of their decisions.

There is a chilling irony in this book, which has on one hand the labyrinth of a dictator’s politics in that nobody ever escapes and all are doomed eventually if they stay. As the tension in this novel builds and the expected pending doom for when the two characters meet, it does not detract from this fascinating novel.

It may not be the easiest of books to read, but it is one of the most fascinating.

Paul Diggett 5/5

Good People by Nir Baram
Text Publishing Company 9781911231004 pbk Sep 2016

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