Sonia Petner, German-Polish writer
Photo: Sonia Petner
Sonia Petner: transcending the boundaries of blame

A book which has inspired me for years is Szczypiorski's The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman (Polish title: Początek). The book is about salvation, hate, gratitude, dictatorship and the banality of a life at the moment of its annihilation, and it ought to be compulsory reading for Europeans.

Sonia Petner

born in Wałbrzych (Poland) in 1979, works as a translator and journalist in Berlin. She recently won 1st prize at the 16th Open Mike competition of the Literaturwerkstatt in Berlin.

This book is a European book – it’s for the Europe which experienced a war that was equally destructive to all its countries. A war which still accompanies generations through their lives. Szczypiorski’s writing transcends the boundaries of nationality and of blame, and illuminates the core of a life. He depicts characters in fear, humiliation and fury. He shows the past, the present and the future, he shows the consequences of dictatorships, of oppression and of genocide. He creates a theatre in front of us, in which a life in war is acted out – and for the reader this is extremely thought-provoking.

Szczypiorski was a controversial author; Szczypiorski was a political author; what he wanted was reconciliation. Szczypiorski worked for a shared Europe. His book The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman is a guide to a possible understanding.

The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman (Początek)

Szcypiorski's novel is set mainly in the 1940s and tells the story of Irma Seidenman, a beautiful, blond-haired Jewish widow who initially manages to hide her origins when the Germans march into Warsaw. When she is arrested by the Gestapo, it is only through the help of many others that she can be saved. In 1968, her fate repeats itself - she is arrested by the anti-Semitic communist government - and this time she emigrates to Paris. The novel does not only narrate Mrs Seidenman's story, but also the individual stories of the people around her in Warsaw - for instance, the tailor Kujawski who takes over the business of a Jew, the teenager Pawelek Krynski, who secretly loves Irma Seidenman, and Pawelek's Jewish friend Henryk, who escapes from the Warsaw Ghetto but later returns to it.


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