Vera Gran: The Accused by Agata Tuszyńska, trans. by Charles Ruas

The unanswered questions surrounding the life of a lounge singer in the ghettos of Warsaw, as seen through the gauze of memory.


Vera Gran was a wildly popular Jewish lounge singer in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. In 2007, she died in an apartment in Paris–filthy, claustrophobic, paranoid and hateful. For decades, despite being found innocent by several tribunals, she had faced accusations of collaboration with the Gestapo.

Agata Tuszyńska was 19 when her mother, also a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, first told her she was Jewish. In her approach to a profoundly sad and traumatized old woman, Tuszyńska seeks the truth but realizes it cannot be pinned down. Vera Gran: The Accused is not a biography, but a shifting portrait of Gran, the Ghetto and survivors’ guilt; it is a contemplation of what we will do (and should do) to survive. Readers unfamiliar with Vera Gran may be more familiar with Wladyslaw Szpilman, the subject of Roman Polanski’s award-winning film The Pianist: Szpilman was Gran’s piano accompanist, but he cut her out of his memoir–later becoming one of her most vocal accusers. The nature of memory and memoir, the power of the stories we tell when those stories outlast memory of the events themselves, becomes a central theme in Tuszyńska’s book.

Charles Ruas’s translation from the French is subtly poetic and adds to the quiet tones of Tuszyńska’s musing as well as Gran’s anger. It is this atmosphere, along with the unknowable questions surrounding Gran, that makes Vera Gran: The Accused a remarkable and memorable contemplation.

This review originally ran in the March 1, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 changed stories.

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