The Warsaw Anagrams

Written by Richard Zimler
Review by Gwen Sly

The Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Warsaw 1940, a world of almost half a million living dead, is the setting for Richard Zimler’s latest book. Those who were rounded up and placed in the old quarter were the ‘first deniers’ and therefore unable to comprehend that the situation into which they were being forced was the first stage towards ethnic cleansing.

Erik Cohen did not interpret the exile correctly, did not live cautiously, did not leave the city, did not leave Poland. The elderly psychiatrist moved into his niece’s apartment in the Jewish quarter before being ordered to do so, living there with her and his nine-year-old great-nephew, Adam. One day in the winter of 1941, Adam, restless from staying indoors in a freezing flat, ventured outside; he did not return. The following morning his mutilated body was discovered entwined within the barbed wire near the crossing point. His great uncle Erik was determined to find the killer and the reason for Adam’s death.

To set such a dark subject into an already midnight black situation makes for a vivid if depressing read, particularly when it is revealed early on that Erik has already died. The author describes with clarity of observation the atmosphere of human degradation and chronicles the loss of hope eventually experienced by those incarcerated within the walls.

Zimler writes within the narrative of The Warsaw Anagrams that ‘when you finish the last page of a detective novel a door locks and therefore you cannot get stuck inside.’ One hopes he is correct in this instance.