A Play for the End of the World

Written by Jai Chakrabarti
Review by Jill E. Marshall

Jai Chakrabarti’s A Play for the End of the World is an elegant book about the effects of grief and guilt that persist years after trauma, and the power of art in political resistance.

Jaryk Smith, a Polish orphan and Holocaust survivor, travels from New York to Gopalpur, India, after his closest friend and only family, Misha, dies. Misha was an orphan in the same home in Warsaw, raised by the real-life Janusz Korczak, or “Pan Doktor.” Misha went to India because political rebels had read that the Warsaw orphanage had staged the play “The Post Office” by Rabindranath Tagore as an act of resistance to Nazi occupation. The Gopalpur resisters, too, wanted to produce the play and thought the presence of the Holocaust survivor would give the act credence.

Jaryk does not want to be part of the play-making at first, but Misha’s death pushes him to India. His travel results in conflict with Lucy, his girlfriend in New York, with whom he is always slightly guarded and uneasy.

The author is especially gifted at creating diverse and fully realized characters. All of the above-mentioned characters are fascinating, and their desires and motivations make sense. The vast cast, however, means that there is a lot going on plot-wise, so that it is difficult to summarize in a short review.

The prose is fluid and enchanting with a light touch of humor. Chakrabarti has written a unique Holocaust book in that the focus is the trajectory of one person after the historical moment. I appreciated how the author takes as a starting point one seemingly miniscule point in history—Pan Doktor’s orphanage production of “The Post Office”—and creates a rich story around it.