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51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating, transcending, unspeakably beautiful...
...and that's no exaggeration.
This was assigned reading for a class on the Holocaust that I took as an elective in college many moons ago. Once I got around to reading it (near the end of the semester, of course), I was completely unable to put it down. I started it on Good Friday and read straight through the weekend. It shattered me. I was flat out weeping as I...
Published on March 14, 2002 by nancybee

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor translation
This is a very poor translation. I remember reading the book many years ago - I don't remember who the translator was, but this version is very poor and significantly detracts from the original.
Published 8 months ago by Stephen Aldersley


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51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating, transcending, unspeakably beautiful..., March 14, 2002
By 
"nancybee" (Cleveland, Ohio) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Paperback)
...and that's no exaggeration.
This was assigned reading for a class on the Holocaust that I took as an elective in college many moons ago. Once I got around to reading it (near the end of the semester, of course), I was completely unable to put it down. I started it on Good Friday and read straight through the weekend. It shattered me. I was flat out weeping as I read that final page late on Easter Sunday (which, as a non-Jew, spun me around into a whole different perspective). I've been teary-eyed over a good book or two, but I had never read (nor have I since) any book that moved or affected me so profoundly.
I find it hard to string together an adequate sentence to describe this book. I can only come up with images...vast, timeless, dream-like, sometimes surreal, but totally human and earthbound at the same time. Gently funny, lush, warm and tender, fluid, truly poetic, painful, pure, sacred, prayer-like. Schwarz-Bart is a master, a pied piper, and this book is a piece of literary art. Five stars just doesn't cover it.
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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Powerful Book!!!, April 9, 2003
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Paperback)
OK, you've read many holocaust books, probably seen several movies, been there, done that.
This one is different, and different in so many ways that you'll never believe you've read one before.
Of course there are not many that start the story in 1105, that's different. There are not many that try to fix the story in a context that is greater than the ending. This one does that, and makes it so strong that you can not put it down.
First the context, the myth if you will. There are in the world 36 `just men' that take on the suffering of the world, that are the reasons God allows the world to continue. There are among these men, some number of `unknown just' who see the world differently from most of us. That when one of these `unknown just' dies his soul is so cold that God must hold him in his fingers for a thousand years so that he can open to paradise.
Ernie Levy is one of those men. A thousand years of history, two thousand years of suffering are all concentrated in the story of one boy, the movement of a family from Poland, to Germany, to France, to extermination. It's all so simple. It's all so wonderfully told. The story of a people, the story of a family, the story of a man, the story of the twentieth century, all in so few pages.
I hope you'll take the time to read it.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply moving and indelible picture of the Holocaust, December 8, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Hardcover)
Difficult to describe and impossible to forget, this book takes us out of whatever 'normal' world we inhabit and casts us into the horror of the Nazi's 'final solution'. The story of a young Jewish boy - the 'last of the Just' - is so powerful, so full of pain and confusion, so beautifully written, so honestly realized, that the reader will never be able to forget it. The last section alone, where the names of all the death camps are listed, in the midst of a kind of elegy, is among the most moving pieces of prose I have ever read.
Read this book. It will change you and stay with you when everything else you have read about the holocaust is forgotten.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where was God?, December 9, 2006
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Paperback)
In this classic of 1959 André Schwarz-Bart reworks the Jewish legend of the Lamed Vavs, the handful (36 in most versions of the story) of Just or Righteous Men who live among the Jews in every generation and who provide the merit on which the world depends. The tradition dates back to the 5th century Babylonian Talmud. It was elaborated by kabbalistic Jews in the 16th and 17th century and by hasidic Jews in the 18th century: the Lamed Vavs are humble men and unnoticed as special by their fellow Jews. At times of great peril, so this version has it, "a Lamed Vavnik makes a dramatic appearance, using his hidden powers to defeat the enemies of Israel" (Encyclopedia Judaica).

Schwarz-Bart was born in France and lost most of the members of his family in the Holocaust. His will not have been the first persecuted Jew in history to question whether any Lamed Vav has ever arisen to defeat the enemies of Israel. He retains the idea that he will be humble and unknown, but he totally subverts the idea that he can be a saviour. Instead his role is to offer to God his own martyrdom for his faith and for his people.

Schwarz-Bart imagines the story of the Levys, one family in which the role of the Just Man was hereditary. They have suffered death down the ages, beginning with the massacre of the Jews of York in 1185. In later generations this wandering Jewish family suffers at the hands of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions; they are expelled from one area after another; the Cossacks add their contribution; and when we come to the late 19th century, the family leaves its home in Zemyock in Russian Poland and settles in Germany. At this stage there are three generations: at the head of it is Mordecai, the venerable patriarch, who accepts that all suffering is part of God's will and who tells his family that there is no point in putting up any resistance. His son Benjamin thinks there is an escape in trying to merge into German society; but the Patriarch tells the story of the Just Men to his frail and scholarly little grandson, Ernie. Ernie lives in his own intensely active and romantic imagination, and, with the arrival of the Nazis in 1933, he is convinced that he is to be the next Just Man.

The remaining two thirds of the book deal with Ernie's life from that time onwards. There are terrible scenes of brutality - gangs of Nazis attacking Jews as they go to the synagogue, atrocious bullying of the Jewish children by a teacher and by their fellow-students. Ernie's life is full of suffering and strengthens his conviction that the calling of being Just Man has indeed fallen upon him. The scenes of cruelty are interspersed with the vivid poetical and mystical nature of Ernie's imagination. With one terrible exception when he is in utter despair - a touch of human nature which rescues the portrait of him from being just too accepting - he identifies with suffering everywhere, not just among the Jews; he is open to the beauties of the earth amid all the horrors that rage upon its surface. It is this lyrical element of the book which sets it apart from so many other accounts of what happened to the Jews under Nazi persecution.

Before the gates of the prison that was Nazi Germany finally slammed shut, the Levy family managed to emigrate to France, only to be trapped there when the war broke out. Ernie volunteers for the French army, though in a non-combatant role as a stretcher-bearer. The horrors of war are described, not with the excruciating detail with which the author had dealt with the brutality in Germany, but with Voltairian brevity and irony.

After the defeat of the French Army, Ernie manages to get into Vichy France. The instinct for survival overcomes for a while his mission to become a martyr: he converts, he attends Mass, he fornicates, he nearly begins to lose his Jewish appearance; but in his ever fertile fantasy he sees himself as a dog and sometimes literally behaves like one. Anyway, his disguise does not work: he is recognized as a Jew, and with that moment he recovers for himself his Jewish identity.

He makes his way back to the Jewish quarter of Paris where he finds four devout old men from Zemyock who have not yet been deported. Before his own deportation, old Mordecai had told them that he believed his grandson to be one of the Just Men. Ernie is now treated by them with the utmost reverence, and he becomes conscious again of his destiny.

But what will drive him to seek entry into the hell of Drancy and the extinction that awaits in Auschwitz is not the consciousness that he is one of the Just Men, but something altogether less mystical, more human. At one point in the heart-wrenching last pages, Ernie`s compassion makes him tell the terrified children in the cattle-truck that they will soon be in the Kingdom where "an eternal joy will crown your heads; cheerfulness and gaiety will come and greet you, and all the pains and all the moans will run away." He is reproved by an old woman for not telling them the truth. He replies, "There is no room for truth here". So will they find the truth in the next world? Will they find an answer to the question that, in his dreams, he heard a fiddler sing:

"Oh, can we rise as far as heaven

To ask God why things are as they are?"
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jewish history as a story of suffering, October 10, 2004
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Paperback)
The legend of the Thirty- Six Just Men , the Lamed Vov whose righteousness sustains the world is at the heart of this work. It traces a family of such Just Men through generations of suffering, and climaxes with Ernie Levy, the Last of the Just whose sufferings in the Shoah( Holocaust) bring the story to a climax and an end. The powerful and painfully poetic conclusion of this story is one of the most moving in Literature. In one sense it might be said that the work presents a one- sided view of Jewish history. But it does tell the story of Jewish suffering through the generations and in the Shoah with incredible compassion and feeling. And it arouses in the reader too a deep identification and sympathy with that history, and with the story and ongoing life of the Jewish people.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable and Uncompromising, August 15, 1999
By A Customer
I always ask people about their favorite book. Years ago a good friend recommended this one. I bought it and it sat on my nighttable for months before I got to it. Now, it's my favorite book, too. Though I've given it as a gift to others, only one friend has gotten through it. I urge you: Don't be daunted. Keep going. And, when you make it to the final pages, you will find yourself weeping from the beauty of his prose, the challenge of his uncompromising story, the tale of "The Last of the Just." A rare and fully satisfying find.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, moving book, June 14, 2000
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Paperback)
My Dad told me to read this book, and when I finally did, it was well worth it. It tells the story of a legend of a dynasty, so to speak, of just men. They are people who cannot abide by injustice, and often sacrifice their lives for the sake of justice. Young Ernie Levy is recognized as the just man of his generation at a very young age. He grapples with the mixed blessing and curse of being a just man, and feeling others pain, for the Nazi's have just come to power and have begun persecuting the Jews. The story tells how Ernie tries to come to terms with his lagacy at the same time as the Nazis release their unimaginable horror over Europe. The end, where the words of kaddish, the prayer for the dead, are interpsersed with the names of the death camps, the author shows us how great, and how terrible it is to be one of the 36 rightious people of the world.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great literature and historic fiction - a must for anyone interested in Jewish history, February 12, 2006
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Paperback)
In 1959 The Last of the Just won the Prix Goncourt, the top literary award of France (the French Booker). A sweeping epic of a thousand years of Jewish life in Europe, the novel traces the fortunes and tragedies of one family with a special heritage. A member of each generation of the family is one of the 36 just men that Jewish tradition claims feel the suffering and pain of all the living, and without whom the world could not go on. Since the Jewish word for 36 is lamed vov, these men are often called Lamed Vovniks.

This strange and singular honor was attributed to the Levy family in 1085 following an attempt by the Bishop William of Nordhouse to massacre the Jewish citizens of York. To save his people, the Rabbi Yom Tov Levy leads them to an abandoned tower where they withhold a siege of six days by the local Christians. Rather than succumb to the indiginities of their captors, the Jews decide to take their own lives. As was done in Masada a thousand years earlier, the Rabbi takes on the role of blessing and killing each of the members of his community and then taking his own life. Some of the children, including the rabbi's son Solomon, survive. When Solomon becomes a man he has a vision from God where he is told that, because of his father's noble act, beginning with him, each generation of his family will contain one of the Lamed-Vovniks.

The first 140 pages of this book presents a history of the Levy family, their lineage of Lamed-Vovniks, and their fame in the Jewish community. The last three hundred pages tells the story of Ernie Levy, who is born in the Twentieth Century, during the events leading up to and in the Holocaust.

Sweeping in scope and yet focused on the life of a single man, this book presents the joys of Jewish community life and the accomodations they make to survive being a European minority marked for extermination by the Christian majority. It presents European history from a Jewish perspective and provides a detailed background to the insanity that is the Holocaust.

The point of view is that of a family of holy men whose compassion and wisdom gives the story great depth and understanding. Sadly, the Levy Lamed-Vovniks are all male. While the women of the story are well portrayed and strong personalities, they are never the main characters so the book has a decidedly male perspective. Sometimes funny, often sad, this is a great single volume introduction to Jewish history and culture, and a novel that is a classic in Jewish literature. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the subject.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touches the soul, December 6, 1998
By A Customer
Schwartz-Bart takes you on a journey in the eyes of Ernie Levy, a young boy who follows in a long line of Just Men. He represents the suffering of all Jews and at a young age must take on the responsibility of his entire race. One feels the pain of the Jews as they are persecuted and harassed from the earliest days of antisemitism to the final horror of the holocaust. Although a legend, the history of these Just Men is elegantly portrayed, yet painfully real. This reader gained a new perspective on what it truly means to be persecuted because of ones religion/race. A great read
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, Funny, Tragic, Romantic... Amazing, January 13, 2007
This review is from: The Last of the Just (Paperback)
This book is a deeply personal account of a Jewish family in the 19th and 20th centuries. Part of it's power comes from following the lives of the family well before the holocaust began... thus showing that anti-semitism was not only a Nazi trait and making the continually worsening conditions even harder to bear in contrast to their lives before. Ernie Levy, our main anti-hero, is so real. Every moment of his roller coaster of life is so charged with real emotions and desires that you cannot help but be 100% invested in what happens to him. The paragraph on the final page is possibly one of the most powerful in all of literature. I finished this book two days ago, and am already ready to read it again. It is a cleansing, miraculous experience.
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The Last of the Just
The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart (Paperback - February 1, 2000)
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