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The Warsaw Anagrams: A Novel Hardcover – July 21, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Books; Reprint edition (July 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590200888
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590200889
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,444,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A gripping, heartbreaking and beautiful thriller."
     Simon Sebag-Montefiore

"Beautifully written, moving and disturbing, this packs a powerful, emotional punch."
     The Guardian

"Both a fast-moving mystery novel and a rich, serious book, in which Zimler...pays tribute to those who died in the Holocaust."
                                                            The Independent

"The Warsaw Anagrams is both a fast-moving, readable mystery and a rich, serious novel. Despite the many books and endless discussions on the Holocaust, Zimler offers a fresh voice, one that has endured anger and terror to offer us optimism." — Tikkun

From the Author

The Warsaw Anagrams: Giving Back Uniqueness to the Dead

At the start The Warsaw Anagrams, I've placed a quote from the novel's main character, Erik Cohen, an elderly psychiatrist forced to move into the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw soon after the Nazi occupation of Poland: "We owe uniqueness to our dead at the very least."  
   Erik comes to this understanding about the debt we owe our loved ones while listening to a devastated teenaged girl whose favorite uncle has just been murdered. Choking with tears, she tells Erik that her Uncle Freddi, an aspiring screenwriter, had been working with a German film star on a script before being interned in the ghetto. Erik is greatly moved because he realizes how urgently the girl needs for him to understand that her uncle was an individual with hopes, dreams and fears. So he listens to her closely.
   These considerations took on enhanced meaning for me as I wrote The Warsaw Anagrams because it is, in part, about daily life in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto, a one-square-mile section of the city in which the Germans forced the Jews to live from October 1940. At its height, 450,000 persons lived there, cut off from the rest of the world by a high brick wall topped by barbed wire.
   By creating this Jewish urban 'island', the Germans hoped to sentence its residents to oblivion - that the rest of the world would forget them. And to some extent, they achieved their goal. Even today, how many of us can talk with any depth about a person or family who lived there. How many of us know anything about their schools or the work they did?
   So part of my goal in The Warsaw Anagrams was to re-create the ghetto and restore individuality to its residents - to give back to them their uniqueness. I tried to do this through my characters - through Erik and the others. Indeed, I hope that when readers come to know their frailties and talents, their defeats and triumphs, they will begin to regard them as real people. I want those who pick up my novel to follow Erik on the heroic - and dangerous - journey he makes. I want people to know what a remarkable person he is.
   In The Warsaw Anagrams, Erik Cohen becomes one of the many millions persecuted by the Nazis, but he is also much more than that. He is a father trying to make amends for having neglected his daughter when she was a child. He is a hardworking therapist and faithful friend. He's grumpy when sleepy, given to boisterous laughter and a fan of the Marx Brothers and jazz. He demonstrates astounding courage at a time when he might easily give in to despair. And at his hardest times, he likes to sit at his bedroom window, puff away on his pipe and look up at the stars. He likes to imagine that all of nature is on the side of the Jews in their fight for survival.

Customer Reviews

Very well written.
Robert Schwartz
I think the reader cannot help but feel the deep connection and love that Dr Cohen has felt and continues to feel for those in his life.
Jill Meyer
Mr. Zimler, an accomplished novelist, brings to life evocative characters via controlled and convincing prose.
Charles S. Weinblatt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Larry Constantine on July 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first dilemma for the reviewer who hopes to do justice to Richard Zimler's new book, The Warsaw Anagrams, is what to call it. Historical murder mystery? Mystical realism with a Yiddish accent? Intelligent, engaging? Or merely brilliant? Too many adjectives, too many superlatives, and I fear the reader will be put off, missing the experience of a fast-moving book whose seduction begins with the first sentence of the Preface and pulls the reader--at times gently, at times with anger, and always with passion--through a maze of mystery, mayhem, and murder.
Try this instead. This book is too good not to know.

Best known for The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, a murder mystery set against the massacre of Jews in 16th century Portugal, Zimler once more turns to finding meaning and transcendence amidst the quotidian realities of human beings slogging their way through chaotic, calamitous circumstance. Amidst the daily death and incessant inhumanity of the Warsaw Ghetto under the Nazi occupation of Poland, the death of a few more Jewish children would hardly seem to merit comment, much less sustained attention. But these brutal murders are different, and the difference compels Erik Cohen, a successful psychiatrist in the Before Time, to cross over to the Other Side in order to solve the puzzling anagrams.

Zimler demonstrates anew that he is at once a skilled storyteller and a student of history and the human heart, a speaker of parables and a constructor of plots who weaves his verbal tapestry with absolute authority.

Narrated by an ibbur, a Jewish ghost, The Warsaw Anagrams is history and mystery, personal odyssey and philosophical inquiry.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
to the other reviews so far of Richard Zimler's "The Warsaw Anagrams". A combination historical mystery, Holocaust study, and exploration of religious beliefs, it is most of all a love story set in Nazi-controlled Warsaw, 1940-42. The love that retired Polish Jewish psychiatrist Erik Cohen both generates and receives back in return is shown in his relationships with almost every character with whom he makes a connection.

Erik Cohen, who refers to himself as an atheist rather than a practicing Jew, moves into the ghetto set up by the German authorities in 1940's. A widower, his only child, a daughter, lives in safety in Turkey, and Cohen moves in with his niece, a widow with a beloved 8 year old son, Adam. At first Cohen and Adam - the old and young - find it difficult to share a room, but little-by-little, the two reach an accommodation and then acceptance. Cohen provides a stability to his niece and grand-nephew as little by little the Nazi hold on the Warsaw Ghetto proves tighter and more deadly. Both random death by violence and slow death by starvation are daily occurrences in the Ghetto, but life goes on for the survivors. Most people seem to have accepted the uncertainties of their current lives and for their futures. Things will/can only get worse for the ghetto dwellers as the Nazis begin to put their "Final Solution" into effect.

Young Adam, who runs with other ghetto children and does some smuggling of foodstuffs into the ghetto, is found dead after having gone missing. The beloved child's body was thrown in the fence surrounding the ghetto. He is naked and his right leg below the knee is missing. Erik and Adam's mother are heart-broken and Erik vows to avenge his great nephew's death and mutilation and goes into action trying to find who's responsible.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Weinblatt on March 18, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
The Warsaw Anagrams is a fast-moving, powerful and intellectual murder mystery set within wartime Warsaw Poland during World War II.

Author Richard Zimler carries the reader deep into the daily life of Jews trapped within the horrific Nazi genocide. His striking portrayal of diverse characters is poignant and touching. Zimler proffers a salient and tender examination of the courage and fortitude exhibited by imprisoned Jews seeking only to survive one day at a time, layered upon a striking murder mystery filled with deception and intrigue. His knowledge of history is surpassed only by his clarity of literary purpose.

In 1940, Nazi Germany forced 400,000 Polish Jews into a dilapidated ghetto in Warsaw. Living in squalor, the Warsaw ghetto Jews began to die. In 1941, Dr. Erik Cohen, an elderly Jewish psychiatrist returns to Warsaw after being interned in a Nazi concentration camp. He befriends a man named Heniek Corben. Erik unfurls a murder mystery both heinous and complex. Jewish children in the ghetto had been murdered. Worse yet, someone removed a portion of the murdered children's bodies. Erik confides that the ritualistic murder of Jewish children that took place several months earlier included his beloved great-nephew, Adam.

Corben gradually realizes that he is the only person able to see Erik. Portions of the psychiatrist's story do not add up. Erik used anagrams for the names of his friends and family. He also portrayed himself as a secular Jew. Yet portions of his tale resemble ritualistic Judaism, including Kabbalah.

Through Erik's eyes, we learn the abject terror of living as a Jew in a Nazi-controlled ghetto. A sordid tale of murder and mystery gradually appears. Erik lived with his niece and her bright, sensitive and loving son, Adam.
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More About the Author

Richard Zimler was born in Roslyn Heights, a suburb of New York, in 1956. After earning a bachelor's degree in comparative religion from Duke University (1977) and a master's degree in journalism from Stanford University (1982), he worked for eight years as a journalist, mainly in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1990, he moved to Porto, Portugal, where he taught journalism for sixteen years, first at the College of Journalism and later at the University of Porto. Richard has published eight novels over the last 15 years. In chronological order, they are: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Unholy Ghosts, The Angelic Darkness, Hunting Midnight, Guardian of the Dawn, The Search for Sana, The Seventh Gate and The Warsaw Anagrams. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists in 12 different countries, including the USA, Great Britain, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, and Australia. Richard has won numerous prizes for his work, including the Prix Alberto Benveniste in 2009, for Guardian of the Dawn (for Jewish-themed fiction), and the 1998 Herodotus Award, for The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon (Best First Historical Novel). His latest novel, The Warsaw Anagrams, was chosen as 2010 Book of the Year in Portugal, by both the country's main literary monthly (LER) and high school teachers and students. Hunting Midnight, The Search for Sana and The Seventh Gate have all been nominated for the International IMPAC Literary Award, the richest prize in the English-speaking world. He was also granted a 1994 U.S. National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Hunting Midnight, Guardian of the Dawn and The Seventh Gate form the "Sephardic Cycle," a group of inter-connected - but fully independent - novels about different branches and generations of a Portuguese Jewish family. in 2010, a short film he based on one of his short stories won the Best Drama award at the New York Downtown Short Film Festival. It is entitled The Slow Mirror. Richard also writes reviews for the L.A. Times. When he's not writing, he enjoys gardening at his weekend house in the north of Portugal.

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