Searching for Wallenberg

Written by Alan Lelchuk
Review by Lorraine Norwood

The premise of Searching for Wallenberg is unfortunately muddled by the conflicting nature of the book. Is it a novel? A non-fiction novel? A docu-novel? A detective novel written by a historian? A metaphysical foray into the question that plagues all historians: whose history is it? Or fiction surrounded by a philosophical discussion of history as fiction and fiction as history?

If this sounds off-putting, it is.

Raoul Wallenberg, an enigmatic Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Budapest, Hungary, during World War II, was arrested by the Russians and brought to Moscow’s Lybianka prison in 1945. Wallenberg may have been executed by the Soviets or sent to a gulag. He may have died of a heart attack in 1947. No one knows. But questions remain. Why didn’t the Swedish government negotiate his release? Why wasn’t he rescued by his wealthy family? Theories (and conspiracies) abound.

Instead of addressing the legend of Wallenberg through a biography, Lelchuk has chosen a fictional route. History professor Manny Gellerman, following a lead uncovered by a graduate student, investigates a possible living descendant of Wallenberg’s and information that could fill in gaps about the mysterious Swede. The result is a novel-within-a-novel documenting Gellerman’s journey to Budapest and mysterious twists and turns which only add confusion to the search.

Unfortunately, a design issue detracts from the text. Rather than blending the Gellerman novel into the narrative, a solid black line denotes the separation of the two, resulting in a jarring aesthetic. On the plus side, Lelchuk writes tenderly of Gellerman’s beloved youngest son and music.

At the end of the book, the mystery of Wallenberg still remains.