I tried to find a contemporary book set in Slovakia, but I was unsuccessful in my attempt. I ended of finding only one book at my library that was set in Slovakia and written by a Slovakian author. I have been trying to avoid reading too many books set during the Second World War, but I have not been able to avoid them lately, and this is how I ended up reading The Shop on Main Street by Ladislav Grosman.
I have nothing against fiction set during the Second World War, but I have had an overload of these books, and it seems like every month there is a new “must read”. I have read extensively on the subject and my journey around the globe reading books is more about opening my eyes to everything that is out there, to challenge me to read new authors and different subjects.
The author was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. The book inspired a film with the same title, a film that the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1965. I have not watched it, but I have now read the book. The narrator is a carpenter living in a town in Slovakia in 1942. It is worth a read, and probably worth to watch.
The book focuses on ordinary people during a time that was everything but ordinary. The carpenter gets caught up in all the ruckus, against his will. He gets an old, deaf Jewish woman’s shop as a “gift”, after Jews are no longer allowed to own shops. She does not understand that the place is not hers anymore. When all Jews have to gather together to get shipped to concentration camps the carpenter must choose. Will he let her go to the camps or will he hide her, and risk his own life?
It is a short, fast read, and naturally the subject is heavy, but nothing new. I do not know how soon after the Second World War this kind of novels started popping up, but quite a few of them are still famous today. Because I have read so many books about the subject this book did not have a big impact on me. That is both good and bad, I think. I have read so many books over the years that a book has to be something really special to be memorable, but on the other hand there are probably books that are really good, but I have simply had an overload of the subject.