Daniel Stein, Interpreter: A Novel in Documents

Written by Ludmila Ulitskaya
Review by Elena Maria Vidal

The phenomenal story of Holocaust survivor Oswald Rufeisen is fictionalized in Ulitskaya’s Daniel Stein, Interpreter. Rufeisen was able to save the lives of hundreds of fellow Jews while working as a translator for the Nazis. While hiding in a monastery he converted to the Catholic faith and later became a Carmelite priest. He eventually immigrated to Israel, where he lived at the Stella Maris monastery on Mt. Carmel and started a community for Jewish Christians. Called “Daniel Stein” in the novel, he is a character of great charity and integrity who devotes his life to bridging the chasms of hatred in a land torn by religious and ethnic divisions.

The book is composed of a series of letters, documents, and diary entries from a variety of characters that are all somehow connected to Brother Daniel. This makes the plot difficult to follow; as more characters are introduced, they become hard to keep track of. It is like reading through the scattered papers of an author that have yet to be organized into a novel. Anyone looking for religious orthodoxy of either the Jewish or Christian variety will be disappointed, since most of the characters appear to be confused as to what they believe. Brother Daniel himself, while insisting that he is a Catholic, denies basic Catholic doctrines such as the Trinity. The strength of the story is the moving depiction of how Holocaust survivors struggle to rebuild their lives when everything has been taken from them.