The Paradise Ghetto

Written by Fergus O’Connell
Review by Ann Northfield

This story starts in a rather shocking way with one of the central characters, Julia, and her unusual job. Betrayed by a fellow worker, Julia is discovered to be a Jew and as it is the middle of the Second World War, she is shipped off to prison. As a privileged Jew, she is sent to the comparatively pleasant “paradise ghetto” at Theresienstadt, where she meets Suzanne, a seemingly delicate and fragile woman who was betrayed from her secret hiding place in someone’s attic. Together, they decide to write a book about women seeking revenge, as an outlet for their inner anger and frustration, and set their scene in an appropriate era. It is a salutary reminder just how many time periods there are to choose from, a demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man.

They finally begin to write about Roman Britain. Birkita’s village is destroyed by Romans, and she is sold into sexual slavery in Pompeii. Her escape plans and plot to revenge herself upon the murderers of her family and friends form the most exciting part of the novel. Julia and Suzanne use the book they are writing to communicate their feelings to each other and also to escape the situation they are in. Prison life, in contrast, is quite dull. The tensest moments come from wondering who will end up on the next transport to a mysterious, but unlikely to be good, destination. This serves as a constant reminder as to how precarious and arbitrary survival was during this time, totally dependent on the whim of others. The love affair which grows and develops between the two women reminds the reader how love can be found in the most unlikely situations and places. Overall, this is an interesting and quite unusual novel based on real-life events.