Monday, 1 December 2008

Arnost Lustig's Lovely Green Eyes (trans: Ewald Osers)

In 1942 when he was a teenager Czech born Arnost Lustig was picked-up and taken to Theresienstadt and later from there to Auschwitz, the place where his father was murdered in the gas chambers. From Auschwitz Arnost Lustig was taken to Buchenwald. He was subsequently freed. He had survived the Holocaust.
The novel Lovely Green Eyes is an account of a teenage girl forced to be an unpaid prostitute who has to accomodate a dozen German soldiers each day, with the exception of Sunday, but not always with the exception of Sunday, and not always a dozen soldiers on the way to and from the front who want to spend their seed; it might be fifteen.
Hanka Kaudersova, known as Skinny, is Jewish. But she has pale skin, ginger hair and green eyes. By pretending to be 18, three years older than her real age, and passing herself off as a member of the pure Aryan race she finds a way out of Auschwitz and into a field brothel behind the eastern front where she does her patriotic duty. Move to Rabbi Gideon Shapiro, a man reduced to tears of despair. A man with no answers.
From time to time the girls are stripped, but strangely they are allowed to keep their shoes on, and put up against the wall and shot. Often on a whim. It's a grim existence. One cannot call it life. Skinny must somehow survive and preserve her identity, hang on to her soul. This takes more than mere tenacity. Her words of one syllable dialogue is suitably terse. Tension builds. It's not possibly to read more than 10 pages at one go; so good is Ewald Osers' translation.
Finally in a straggling column force marched through snowdrifts she finds a train and makes a dash for freedom under a pile of coal and a green tarpaulin.
Lovely Green Eyes ISBN 0-099-44858-0 Vintage paperback 2003 edition


  1. Powerful indeed, I felt quite exhausted after reading it. It's only 200-odd pages but every line is impacting. Why are we as a species so often so cruel to each other?


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