Bela’s Letters

Written by Jeff Ingber
Review by Joanna Urquhart

The grim fate of Eastern Europe’s Jews forms the vivid backdrop for Jeff Ingber’s autobiographical, genealogical novel Bela’s Letters, a lightly fictionalized version of his own family’s experiences living with – and living through – the Nazi domination of Europe and persecution of the Jews.

Through the reminiscences of his characters (and through their letters, including those of the titular Bela Ingber, son of Kalman) and a good deal of solid-feeling research, Ingber really makes readers feel the day-to-day realities of an extended family as it endures one kind of terror after another. The setting ranges from ghettos to work camps, with the distant promise of the New World periodically flickering on the far horizon.

Ingber writes without sentimentality, and he invests many of his characters with a grim but effective sense of humor even in the darkest of times. Reading the book gives the strong impression that these tales are long-held family lore among Ingber’s relatives, only here very movingly transmuted into fiction.

An absorbing book.