Friedrich Gorenstein - Nazism and Stalinism are inextricably linked, with the result that everyone residing in the postwar terrain is either an incubator or a carrier of irredeemable evil. In the mode of Greek tragedy, each character inhabits his or her own version of the disease, for which each one also pays. Yet their punishment does nothing to break the fog of doom that envelops and condemns them.

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Friedrich Gorenstein, Redemption, Trans. by Andrew Bromfield, Columbia University Press, 2018.


It is New Year’s Eve 1945 in a small Soviet town not long liberated from German occupation. Sashenka, a headstrong and self-centered teenage girl, resents her mother for taking a lover after her father’s death in the war, and denounces her to the authorities for the petty theft that keeps them from going hungry. When she meets a Jewish lieutenant who has returned to bury his family, betrayed and murdered by their neighbors during the occupation, both must come to terms with the trauma that surrounds them as their relationship deepens.
Redemption is a stark and powerful portrait of humanity caught up in Stalin’s police state in the aftermath of the war and the Holocaust. In this short novel, written in 1967 but unpublished for many years, Friedrich Gorenstein effortlessly combines the concrete details of daily life in this devastated society with witness testimonies to the mass murder of Jews. He gives a realistic account of postwar Soviet suffering through nuanced psychological portraits of people confronted with harsh choices and a coming-of-age story underscored by the deep involvement of sexuality and violence. Interspersed are flights of philosophical consideration of the relationship between Christians and Jews, love and suffering, justice and forgiveness. A major addition to the canon of literature bearing witness to the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, Redemption is an important reckoning with anti-Semitism and Stalinist repression from a significant Soviet Jewish voice.




Set immediately after World War II in a Soviet town emerging from German occupation, Friedrich Gorenstein’s Redemption is a small masterpiece of post-Holocaust fiction. Vividly translated by Andrew Bromfield, this is a gripping book―full of searing psychological portraits threaded across intersecting social, political, and historical microcosms. Redemption startles the reader with its emotionally and philosophically vivid account of sex and violence and the strange horizons of love.  - Val Vinokur

Bromfield’s translation of Gorenstein’s Redemption peels away the layers of the still underexamined archive of the Holocaust in the USSR. In the immediate aftermath of the war with Nazi Germany, denizens of a town in Soviet Ukraine begin to face the consequences of the wartime treatment of their Jewish neighbors. Official documents and witness reports crowd in on personal recollections of perpetrators, survivors, and their progeny in a narrative that shifts between stylistic registers as it challenges the contours of collective memory and individual responsibility. I’m thrilled that this work by an important Russian author is now available to the English-language reader. - Sasha Senderovich

A master of episodic narration... Gorenstein also proves to be a keen observer and radically critical chronicler of Soviet society. - Heinz Ludwig Arnold

Told honestly but philosophically, this is the story of two young people’s love in the aftermath of World War II, as some traumas were healing and others were only beginning, laying bare the underacknowledged Holocaust in the USSR. - World Literature Today


REDEMPTION IS NOT a happy book. It might even be mistitled. Written in 1967 by the Soviet-Jewish writer Friedrich Gorenstein, the novel describes the reawakening of a decimated Ukrainian town at the end of Nazi occupation. The cast of Redemption is destitute, traumatized, and beset by a restless police apparatus hunting out wartime collaborators. They are constitutionally unfit to bring new life into the world — yet they do: securing food and heat, having parties, making babies, and burying the dead. All of it, the book argues, is the result of ineluctable forces — biological, tectonic, geothermal — rather than proof of any spiritual or ideological purpose. The countless victims of the war have not been redeemed by the living; their murders won’t be paid back. Indeed, the novel’s beauty and its truth rest on the knowledge that redemption is inconceivable and that life persists in its absence.
The story takes place during the first weeks of 1946, in or near the city of Berdichev (now Berdychiv, Ukraine). This had been one of Europe’s most populous Jewish centers, a capital of the old Pale of Settlement, with both political and religious importance. Hasidism had flourished there; the 1920s saw police and court proceedings conducted in Yiddish. When Redemption begins, no Jews are left alive. What remains of them is a mass grave, likely the result of an SS-engineered massacre, along with scattered sites of murders committed by locals on their own initiative. For the Gentiles life continues piecemeal, under the omnivorous eye of Stalin’s police.
Redemption, which focused on Jewish suffering and suggested that Soviet citizens perpetrated atrocities, was of no use to Soviet publishing houses. After the war, the official Soviet line was that the Nazis had targeted all Soviet men and women, Jews and non-Jews alike. The novel languished in émigré editions until the fall of the USSR. Only now, 50 years after its completion, has the novel been translated into English. Its emergence feels like the return of Persephone from the underworld — a Persephone who forgets to set spring in motion because she can’t stop telling stories of winter.
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At the center of Redemption is 16-year-old Sashenka, coming of age in hostile conditions. The war saw Sashenka and her mother migrate to Berdichev from elsewhere in Ukraine, and her father, a pilot, die in battle. Sashenka has spent her first years of maturity mourning her father and her home, battling typhus, and running from Nazis. Her body has recovered enough from these traumas to begin awakening into sexual maturity, but having no idea what to do with these new feelings, she turns them into rage against her mother and their destitute lodgers, a couple named Olga and Vasya. When we first meet Sashenka, she is ruining dinner:
[L]ast night she had dreamed that Markeev was pressing her up against some kind of wall, and it felt so sweet that after she woke up her entire body had carried on trembling and shivering for several minutes. She was seized by trembling now too, and she raked the porridge, patties, and doughnuts off all the plates, tipped them out onto the table and started grinding them together in her hands, watching the mingled mass, sticky with jam, oozing out between her greasy, gleaming fingers.
In a moment she changes clothes and runs off to a New Year’s celebration — her first ball. Sashenka dances with commanding grace, till a cadet spots a pair of lice crawling across her back, sending her running out of the building in humiliation. Stumbling onto the edge of the Jewish mass grave, she scans the memorial placard and moves on in a haze of spite and self-pity. At home she finds her mother necking with a new boyfriend, and Olga and Vasya spooning in the kitchen. Sashenka throws a bucket of icy water onto the lovers and runs cursing into the night.
Under happier conditions Sashenka’s behavior would be merely insufferable, but the legacy of the Holocaust and the present Stalinist terror distort her egoism into outright wickedness. The morning after the ball — New Year’s Day 1946 — Sashenka betrays her mother to the police for stealing the food on which they survive, and strains to drum up criminal charges against everyone who annoys her:
“My mother,” Sashenka wrote, “is a pilferer of Soviet property. I repudiate her and now wish to be only the daughter of my father, who died for the motherland…” […] Sashenka simply couldn’t think of what to write about Vasya, Olga, and the master of ceremonies. She thought it would be a good thing to put in something about Batiunya, and Markeev, and Zara with her gold pendants, and in general everyone who had laughed at Sashenka and mocked her.
Using Soviet jargon to cover her lack of conscience, Sashenka capitalizes on the ongoing hunt for Nazi collaborators: “I know where a polizei is hiding,” she tells the duty officer, licking her lips in Dostoyevskian fashion. This denunciation could mean death for the lodger Vasya, whether or not he was a collaborator (the novel never makes it clear). But Sashenka demonstrates little awareness that her actions have any moral implications. And even if she were to gain this awareness — if she were somehow to be redeemed — there would still be the matter of the bodies in the mass grave, not to mention the ongoing injustice of the police.
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The book’s Russian title, Iskuplenie, wavers in meaning between “redemption” and “atonement.” In German, it was called Die Sühne (atonement), while the French translator plumped for Le Rachat (redemption). A 2012 Russian film adaptation of Iskuplenie (directed by Alexander Proshkin) was released to the English-speaking world as Expiation. Out of all these, “atonement” seems the right choice. Indeed, Andrew Bromfield, the novel’s English translator, has rendered eight of 10 instances in the text of the word iskuplenie (including related forms) as “atonement,” and two as “penance.” The distinction is important: atonement describes the process of making good, while redemption celebrates its end.
An example: While Sashenka is at police headquarters writing out her denunciation, she overhears an interrogation in the next room. A custodian is providing evidence about the murder and desecration of a Jewish family by their neighbor, the shoeshine man Shuma. This Shuma was arrested, presumably for collaboration, and has been spotted in a prison camp. The janitor describes Shuma’s suffering:
“He’s sick all the time, with the sort of incredible diseases you can only catch in hell … The flesh on his legs is bursting open, his body’s all ripped and torn, so he can’t sleep on his back or his stomach or his sides, he goes to sleep on his knees, leaning his forehead against the wall, and the moment he falls asleep, he tumbles over onto the bunk, his carbuncles start bursting and he jumps up screaming […] That’s his penance [iskuplenie] for the little child…”
This is Dantean spectacle, a hell on earth with no exit. Shuma will not return from the Gulag cured of his carbuncles. And the forces that propel this drama — through historical movements, through the characters’ bodies, through weather events — are defined by physical laws and biological cycles, not by a redemptive ideology.
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Friedrich Gorenstein was born in 1932 in Kiev (now Kyiv), to Jewish parents, who named him for Friedrich Engels. His father, a professor of political economy, fell victim to Stalin’s terror and was shot in 1937. His mother fled with the boy to Berdichev, her birthplace. At the war’s outbreak, half the city’s population was Jewish. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Friedrich and his mother fled again, to Uzbekistan. On the journey his mother succumbed to tuberculosis, and Friedrich went to an orphanage. After the war he was found by relatives and returned to Berdichev. The town had lost its 30,000 Jewish residents: some escaped, most slaughtered. Gorenstein was 13.
Sashenka, like her creator, spent the beginning of the war elsewhere, and arrived to find the town half empty. Though she’s suffered, she is not implicated in her privation: her suffering is circumstantial, not tied to her identity or history. She has no debts to society to redeem — her father died a hero — nor does Sashenka accept that she has sinned against her mother. No one accuses Sashenka of wrongdoing — maybe they’re too scared — and in the end her mother only spends a few months in prison. If the novel hosts any atonement, it happens without conscious involvement, but rather emerges as a collective process, even a natural force. The novel ends by introducing three new lives: a baby girl each for Sashenka, Olga the lodger, and Sashenka’s mother (released from prison on account of her pregnancy). Life extends itself over the wreckage: an atonement free of ideology.
Sashenka’s child comes out of a love affair that happens just after her mother is arrested. August, the surviving son of the family that Shuma murdered, has come home to give his parents and siblings a proper burial. Sashenka falls in love at first sight. She helps August dig his father out of a temporary grave, and accompanies him to his hotel room, where he raves about the impossibility of justice: “That drunken Catholic custodian talked about atonement [iskuplenie] […] I can’t imagine myself digging up the ground today and seeing my mother in the clay […] There are ten thousand lying in the porcelain factory quarries…” Sashenka offers herself to August as something to live for, a conditional release from hell on earth. When she comes to him in bed, releasing all that blocked-up, food-squelching libido, the action implies a cosmic process that conforms to general biological and philosophical laws:
[T]hen the thirsting ended for Sashenka too and the sweet agony began, the blissful torment in which her strength dissolved deliciously and joyful moans erupted from her chest, and finally came the something never experienced before, a sense of disappearing, of the death of the soul […] a demonic, drunken challenge to life, nature, and impotent order […] acknowledging neither father, nor mother, nor motherland, nor love and all the rest of it […] this moment of conception, the only moment, ambivalent like everything in the universe, when life, deprived of the assistance of fantasy and reason, shows its genuine value, equal to zero […] But this effect […] rapidly fading away […] merely strengthens order and reinforces the purposive nature and meaning of life.
In a world in which meaning and chaos perpetually succeed one another, all release is conditional. This cosmic oscillation smacks both of dialectic and of mystery, and when Redemption gets philosophical (which it does with accelerating frequency toward the end) it is to describe the oscillation’s influence on human thought and behavior. In the end, we are pointed to the book of Job, where the Lord’s answer to Job’s complaint of injustice is to reveal terrifying spectacles of His creation, the monsters Leviathan and Behemoth. It is a purely descriptive ontology of purpose, a response to the most abject “Why?” with a silent “Is.”
In Redemption, it is the sky that offers such inapt spectacles, particularly as Sashenka helps exhume August’s family. Blizzards mount and fall, stars shine and are blotted out, temperatures lurch, sheet lightning stuns the burial party as the sky passes through all manner of colors and moods. Near the end, the narrator presents Job 21:5 as containing “the very greatest wisdom, the most accessible to the human soul […]: ‘Mark me, and be astonished, and lay your hand upon your mouth.’” If there is a final authority in Redemption, it speaks in images of astonishment. If there is grace in Job, or in Sashenka, it is amoral. She is a hero of her time.- Leeore Schnairsohn
lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-winters-tale-the-impossibility-of-friedrich-gorensteins-redemption/




Friedrich Gorenstein (1932-2002) is a major figure in the history of 20th-century Russian literature—and a most curious one. On the one hand, his novels blend fiction with religion, philosophy, and politics in a way that is quintessentially Russian, reminiscent of writers from Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy to Chekhov and, in the 20th century, Andrei Platonov. On the other hand, throughout his voluminous body of work, he defiantly tackles those selfsame issues as a Jewish writer, a Jewish thinker, and an uncompromising Jewish voice.
Until now all but unknown in English, this daring and complex author has at last been brought to the attention of American readers with the recent publication of Redemption, his first major novel, in a masterful translation by Andrew Bromfield.
Gorenstein’s life story replicates the grim travails of Soviet history. His father, a prominent academic in Kiev, was arrested in 1935 and sent to the Gulag where he soon perished. At the start of World War II, his mother died unexpectedly during the family’s evacuation to Central Asia, leaving Friedrich in an orphanage and later in the care of his aunts in Berdichev, Ukraine, where he returned after the combined atrocities of the war and the Holocaust had done their worst.
Haunted by past trauma, the youthful Gorenstein learned to remain in prolonged obscurity. He thus came to literature relatively late. His first and only “official” publication—“House with A Torrent,” a beautiful short story about his mother’s death—saw the light of day in 1964, at the end of a liberalizing period (known as the “Thaw”) inaugurated under Nikita Khrushchev.
Having studied screenwriting at the famed Moscow state film school, Gorenstein made a living by writing scripts for such notable directors as Andrei Tarkovsky (best known for Andrei Rublev and, with Gorenstein, the science-fiction feature Solaris). In 1980, seeing no future for himself in the Soviet Union, he emigrated to West Germany and remained in Berlin until his death in 2002 at the age of seventy. His works, which, in addition to Redemption, include an 800-page novel spanning the generations of Soviet history and a 1,500-page play about the reign of Ivan the Terrible, were published in various émigré venues and widely translated into French and German. Not until the Perestroika reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s did they finally come out in Russia itself.
From the early 1960s on, Gorenstein desperately sought recognition for his prodigious talent. He was indeed deemed a genius by many who knew him or of him, but when that no longer sufficed, he began to cultivate an image of a bitter and quarrelsome outcast. He was certainly an oddity: unlike many liberal-minded writers of his generation, he harbored no dreams of fixing the Soviet system or of restoring its supposedly humanistic roots. He also wore his Jewishness on his sleeve, putting off potential friends or allies by, for example, deliberately pronouncing his impeccable Russian with a Yiddish intonation. To this day, Russian fans of his writing feel the need to explain away his “provincialism.”
To Gorenstein himself, however, Jewishness was anything but provincial. Even as he places his work in the Russian literary tradition, complete with subtle homages to its great practitioners from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to Chekhov and beyond, he uniquely insists upon his distinctive Jewish voice. Moreover, what makes him a Jewish writer is not merely the preponderance of Jewish themes and characters in his novels, stories, plays, and essays but precisely his polemical stance toward Russia’s history, language, literature, and religion—and toward the concomitant Russian demand for Jewish assimilation to those norms.
As he put it, “If I knew Yiddish, I probably would have become a Jewish writer and written in Yiddish. But I write in Russian, hence I’m a Russian writer whether anybody likes it or not.” Irreverently, Gorenstein speaks here to the undeniable fact both of his origins (Jewish) and of his actual language (Russian), chosen not so much by him as for him by the destructive forces of history. He regards Russian simultaneously as a tool and as a piece of cultural property that is enriched by his use of it:
I use it without right or permission from those I’ve insulted. I didn’t ask for it on a church steeple—I took it myself without any solicitations. “With such opinions,” [they say], “what right do you have to write in Russian?” What right? And what right do you have to use the Jewish Bible and the Jewish Gospels?
To call such a worldview unusual for an acculturated Russian Jewish writer of the Soviet era is an understatement. It flies in the face of both the assimilationist or conversionary ethos of a Jewish writer like Boris Pasternak and the anti-Jewish animus of great non-Jewish writers from Dostoevsky to Solzhenitsyn. But Gorenstein’s stance does resonate with a certain strain in modern Jewish literature in both Yiddish and Hebrew. His is a vision of a modern Jew speaking with an ancient voice, through which he reclaims his hereditary dues and graciously shares them with others.
Gorenstein’s invocation of the “Jewish Gospels” requires a word of explication. Coupling his artistic credo with his revisionist theology, he viewed the Hebrew and Christian Bibles as a single Jewish document. For him, Jesus was indeed King of the Jews, but in a strictly nationalist sense: another Maccabee come to remind his broken people of their once-fearless spirit. In this reimagining of the Gospels, Gorenstein was certain he was reinstituting historical truth: not merely confirming the link between Judaism and early Christianity but upholding Jewish pre-eminence, and doing so brazenly both as a Russian writer and as a Jewish provocateur. As for later Christianity, this to him amounted to a usurpation and betrayal of the Jewish lineage.
The power of Gorenstein’s writing lies in the fact that his weighty, nuanced, and idiosyncratic political and religious imagination is channeled through a spellbinding lyrical style. And that brings us to Redemption.
Written in 1967, first published in Russian in the West twenty years later, the novel is set in an unnamed Soviet Ukrainian town, likely modeled on Berdichev, in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Virtually all of the town’s Jews, who had made up 80 percent of the population in pre-Soviet times, have been killed by the Nazis, with local help; tens of thousands lie in a mass grave in a quarry.
In this blasted wasteland we meet the novel’s protagonist Sashenka, a sixteen-year-old girl whose father has been killed at the front and whose mother works as a dishwasher at a military canteen where she steals food to feed her daughter and their two lodgers. Tormented by unfulfilled sexual desire, Sashenka detests her mother, who has found a new suitor. An avid Stalinist, the girl proceeds to denounce her mother to the state authorities as a thief, for which the woman is immediately arrested.
Intersecting with Sashenka’s story is that of Lieutenant August, a cerebral, anxious Jew whose parents and siblings were murdered during the war by a neighbor; the perpetrator was subsequently arrested and sent to the Gulag for collaborating with the Nazis. August has received permission to dig up his family’s remains and bury them in a dignified manner. Sashenka instantaneously falls in love with him; they marry; a daughter is born, whereupon August leaves town, never to return. Sashenka, hoping against hope that they will reunite, raises their daughter with her mother, who has since been released from jail and has a new baby of her own.
To grasp what Gorenstein is up to in this novel, it’s useful to know that, for much of postwar Soviet history, the particularity of the Nazi program to exterminate the Jews was erased from official Soviet historiography, with the multitudes of Jewish dead subsumed under the amorphous category of “peaceful Soviet citizens.” Gorenstein, in a novel that deliberately captures both the general Soviet and the particular Jewish experience of World War II, thus stands in a dissenting category of Russian Jewish writers and poets whose output, except for a small portion published officially during the war itself (and sporadically afterward), remained largely hidden away in desk drawers or circulated clandestinely.
In addition, and in contrast to most Western writers, who tended to separate the issue of both the Holocaust and the larger war against the Nazis from the issue of Soviet totalitarianism, some of these writers saw an indelible connection between Nazi and Soviet crimes. Most prominently, Vasily Grossman in his magnum opus Life and Fate depicted the Nazi and Stalinist systems as mirror images of each other. Grossman’s novel was seized in manuscript by the KGB in 1961; miraculously, a copy survived and was published in the West in 1980.
In Gorenstein’s Redemption, too, Nazism and Stalinism are inextricably linked, with the result that everyone residing in the postwar terrain is either an incubator or a carrier of irredeemable evil. In the mode of Greek tragedy, each character inhabits his or her own version of the disease, for which each one also pays. Yet their punishment does nothing to break the fog of doom that envelops and condemns them.
Whence the “redemption,” then? Like Dostoevsky, Gorenstein is merciless toward his characters, who resemble monsters in a Bosch painting. Yet the fact that all suffer, that all are simultaneously victims and perpetrators, also humanizes them and evokes pity in author and reader alike. Pointedly, however, Gorenstein refuses to let this vision qualify the particularity of the Jewish catastrophe, or dissolve into a shallow relativism. The Holocaust may constitute part of the overall East European “climate” of hate, a climate in which Jews themselves are by no means immune to the rottenness of human nature or the fatal and decidedly non-redemptive quicksand of radical politics; but at the same time, violence against Jews is of a special kind. As August expostulates:
There are ten-thousand [Jews] lying in the porcelain-factory quarries. . . . They were killed by fascism and totalitarianism, but my dear ones were killed by our neighbor with a rock. . . . Fascism is a temporary stage of imperialism, but neighbors, like rocks, are eternal.
August may be the product of a Soviet Marxist education, but his view of the perpetual peril of Jewish existence is unclouded.
Some readers of Redemption have seen a positive image in Sashenka and August’s child, whose birth redeems the pervasive evil in an almost Christian fashion. Gorenstein’s usage of the term “redemption,” however, is much more ironic and inconclusive, and in fact contradicts Christian ideas of redemption. In the novel, a professor of literature, hounded by the regime, helps August in uncovering his family’s remains. As they speak, he points to the notion of a “boundary” that humanity will cross once the cup of its inequity and suffering has at last overflowed. Beyond this apocalyptic boundary, he posits, “lies either universal life or universal death.”
For his part, August sees no possibility at all of recompense or redemption for what was done to his family and people. Instead, he opts for disappearance. The professor, too, dies, leaving behind writings that argue for the basic comedic insignificance of human existence, “our invented little earthly meaning of life” and the false idea that man is “himself and is unique, distinct from everything.”
Is there then no way to end the “soul-crucifying night” of history and arrive at “a naïve, unpretentious, human dawn”? Gorenstein’s own answer in Redemption would seem to be entirely negative, but elsewhere he expresses a view that, while no less disillusioned, and no less deeply informed by the sensibility of a post-Holocaust Russian Jew, stops short of utter despair. In one of his essays he writes:
In Vienna, I went to pray in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. “To pray” sounds strange in relation to me, a non-believer as far any religion is concerned. Not true, not a “non-believer”—a believer, but not religious. I do not follow rules and customs and cannot pray according to any canons. If I knew how, I would have gone perhaps to a synagogue. But what is it—this canon—and where is that Viennese synagogue?
For a Jewish writer in a world of shattered and decimated synagogues, there’s no other choice but to turn to the cathedral—that is to say, Western civilization and, in Gorenstein’s case, Russian literature. But there, even while marveling at the cathedral’s beauty, he will not let the synagogue out of his sight. In this intertwined calling lies Gorenstein’s own partial, stubborn “redemption” as a writer and a witness, as well as his artistic ticket to the canon of 20th-century Jewish literature. - Marat Grinberg
https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2019/03/the-stubbornly-jewish-worldview-of-the-soviet-era-writer-friedrich-gorenstein/


With literature in translation, good things often come to those who wait. In the case of Friedrich Gorenstein’s “Redemption,” the wait has been more than 50 years.
Gorenstein, a Soviet Jewish author, wrote the novel in 1967, but as with all his work before and after, it immediately fell afoul of the state censors. Refusing to toe the party line and produce instead bloodless, frictionless socialist realism that steered clear of taboos, Gorenstein left the Soviet Union for Berlin and published unhampered abroad.
Much of Gorenstein’s literary output has been widely translated in Europe. To date, though, only one of his short novels has seen the light of day in English. Reading the more substantial “Redemption” feels like finally being let into a dark and potent secret. With luck its publication will raise the profile of a principled and prodigiously talented writer and bring forth more unlocked secrets.
Set in a small Ukrainian town recently liberated from Nazi occupation, “Redemption” follows an impetuous and mean-spirited teenage girl on a turbulent personal journey. The novel opens on New Year’s Eve 1945 with 16-year-old Sashenka berating her widowed mother, a poor dishwasher struggling to make ends meet. “Father laid down his life for the motherland,” she complains, “and you pilfer things here on the home front.” She then storms off to her first ball, where she turns heads and melts hearts. However, when rivals spot lice on her clothes, she quickly slides from center of attention to object of ridicule.
Still seething and smarting the next day, she denounces her mother to the authorities. After her parent is arrested and taken away, Sashenka finds herself looking for new means of support. She gravitates toward August, a handsome Jewish lieutenant, whose family was betrayed and killed by their neighbors. They form a close bond that strengthens when she assists him in the arduous task of raising the dead from ditches and cesspits and giving them a decent burial.
But is this show of selflessness too little, too late, or might it be enough to help her change her ways?
“Redemption” is awash with brutal truths, rude awakenings and painful self-discoveries. Gorenstein doesn’t make it easy for his reader: His forbidding theme is the aftermath of the Holocaust — the aftershock of “ineluctable, planned murder” — and his protagonist is an unsympathetic young woman. But the darkness is not total; there are numerous glints of light, even pockets of beauty. Gorenstein skillfully crafts scenes, paints landscapes and conveys moods. We move from the shabby elegance of the ball to the snowy streets with their burned-out ruins. We watch with morbid fascination as Sashenka inflicts damage on others and then herself. Punctuating her many trials and errors are searching meditations on suffering and salvation, love and fate.
This is a bleak, hard-edged novel but also a remarkable and important one. Ignored for too long, Gorenstein deserves to be read. - Malcolm Forbes


Friedrich Gorenstein (1932–2002), born in Kiev, was a Soviet Jewish writer and screenwriter who collaborated with Andrei Tarkovsky on Solaris (1972), among other works. His father was arrested during Stalin’s purges and later shot. Unable to publish in the Soviet Union, Gorenstein emigrated to Berlin, where he lived until his death. An award-winning film adaptation of Redemption was released in 2012.

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