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A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski Hardcover – February, 2002

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

HWhen Binjamin Wilkomirski published his childhood Holocaust memoir, Fragments, in 1996, it was met with both popular and critical praise. Soon, however, people began to voice concern over its authenticity , which ended in a full-fledged debunking on 60 Minutes in 1999. While much has been written about Wilkomirski, this stunning analysis by journalist Eskin is not only the best and most compelling account of the case, but places it in a broader social, political and cultural context that raises vital issues about history, identity, as well as personal and political responsibility. While the frame of the book is a fascinating personal memoir/journalistic investigation (Eskin's family, immigrant Jews from Latvia, contact Wilkomirski thinking they might be related to him), the power of the work comes from the author's ability to marshal the central arguments over Wilkomirski's life and work in order to illuminate the more important and interesting question of how humans deal with trauma. Moving from the specific, Eskin touches on such broader and controversial topics as what happens when Holocaust memoirs are exposed as fiction, thus giving fuel to Holocaust deniers; how Wilkomirski's book helped assuage Swiss guilt over Switzerland's actions during WWII; how Holocaust literature has become emblematic of human suffering, allowing even non-Holocaust survivors to identify with and take on the metaphors of "the survivor." This is brought home in Eskin's discussion of Lauren Grabowski, a Christian woman posing as a Jewish survivor who, under the name of Lauren Stratford, wrote an enormously popular, and discredited, memoir of child sexual abuse, Satan's Underground. A mixture of thrilling detective work and astute cultural criticism, this is an important contribution to Holocaust literature as well as to studies of psychological and cultural trauma. (Feb.)Forecast: This is bound to get major media attention, as Wilkomirski's story did, and will have brisk sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In 1997, Wilkomirski won acclaim for Fragments, his memoir of surviving the Holocaust as a young Jewish boy and was then accused of being a gentile who made the whole thing up. Here, journalist Eskin, who is related to the Wilkomirskis the author claimed as his own, tries to penetrate the mystery.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (February 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393048713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393048711
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,811,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed "A Life in Pieces" very much! Far from the narrative being jumbled, I found Eskin's weaving together of his personal search for his family's roots, along with the related story of the Wilkomirski hoax, very skillful. The story is told on 2 levels. It was the fraudulent claims of Bruno Grosjean/Doessekker, AKA Binjamin Wilkomirski, which ironically awakened interest in the author's ancestors, since his mother's family name was originally Wilkomirski. After a family reunion to meet the bogus 'relative', the author details his attempts to learn of his family from elderly relatives. This leads ultimately to a visit to Riga, Latvia, where the family's forebears came from. He then moves on to Israel, where long lost relatives, descendents of that remnant of the family that remained in Europe, are located. Eskin's own experience as a 3rd. generation Jewish American mirrors those of many, like myself, whose families had relatives who escaped from or who became victims of the Nazis. This book was written as part memoir. Therefore, his use of 'I', 'me' and 'myself' is wholly appropriate. It is a fascinating story which raises all sorts of troubling philosophical issues. These issues include the plight of former child survivors, false memories, victimhood, and family. Unfortunately, these issues more than ever before, took form with 'Wilkomirski' and his claims. I very strongly recommend this thought provoking work.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I read Fragments I could not understand how anyone could have believed Binjamin Wilkomirski's story. It was incredible that a child as small as he claimed to have been could have survived a Nazi death camp (much less two) or recalled the things he claimed to remember. By the time I read it, the book had been exposed as fiction. But the tale seemed to me so weak that I doubted I would have found it any more convincing had I read it in 1996, before the scandal broke.

As a longtime student of the Holocaust, I was therefore fascinated by Wilkomirski's exposure as Bruno Doessekker, the Swiss birth-child of Yvonne Berthe Grosjean, who surrendered her son for adoption in 1945; he was ultimately adopted by the Doessekkers.

Stefen Maechler's Wilkomirski Affair (2001) provided a superb and thorough expose of the fraud Bruno Grosjean Doessekker perpetrated. Maechler pursued every possible lead, compared each minute detail in Doessekker's narration of "events" with historical records from such leading Holocaust scholars as Raul Hilberg and Lawrence Langer and accounts of other child survivors. He interviewed members of the Doessekker and Grosjean families and more. The most damning evidence Maechler unearthed was that in 1981, Doessekker/Wilkomirski contested the will of Yvonne Grosjean, whom, in a letter to officials in Bern Switzerland, he called "my birth mother." He received a third of her estate.

Wilkomirski/Doessekker had also used Laura Grabowski, who claimed to have known him in a children's home in Krakow, to "corroborate" his story.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was so much looking forward to reading this book to learn the details of the author of Fragments, but ultimately this book left me with more questions than I had before I read it, not to mention bringing up more issues and then leaving them unresolved. For example, was Binjamin tattooed with a number on his arm? We are told that Varena is not Binjamin/Bruno's wife, but then are never told who she is or what connection she has to him. Was any DNA evidence ever made public, or is Binjamin/Bruno's true identity an ongoing mystery? I am reading the article in Granta #66 by Elena Lappin, and in the first few pages have learned that Binjamin/Bruno was married prior to his relationship with Varena and has three children! What a shocker. Why was this not mentioned in Eskin's book? Where are the children now and what do they think about the whole Wilkomirski affair? In any case, this book is passable as an introduction to the case, but I do agree with another reviewer here who stated that Eskin's personal history, other than being the catalyst to his investigation of the Wilkomirski affair, is really not very interesting (and this from a lover of memoirs and family history).
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By A Customer on February 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am very interested in the Fragments affair and was eager to read this new account of it. Unfortunately I found this book disappointing. It adds little new to the other published works, notably historian Stefan Maechler's excellent account which was published in English last year. While Eskin has a good style, his narrative is jumbled, he skips around a lot and it is often hard to work out what is going on. Also Eskin virtually ruins his own book by going on endlessly about himself when it is really not relevant to Wilkomirski's story. There are too many unnecessary uses of the words I, me, and myself by Eskin to make this a focussed study of the Fragments affair.
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