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The Last Berliner

Yoram Kaniuk
A writer is contemplating his new book, a children`s story. The story is about a Jewish man, Gustav Vierundzwanzig, and his grandson, Uri. The grandfather, a native German, fled to pre-state Israel in 1939, but continues to communicate telepathically with his wife, Hilda, who disappeared in Germany. He teaches this telepathic "game" to his grandson, who gets to know Berlin well despite never having been there. In fact, the boy becomes a living map of a Berlin that no longer exists, and he then undertakes a mission to find his missing grandmother.
The writer is Yoram Kaniuk himself. In the summer of 1999, he sets out for Berlin, following the footsteps of his young protagonist, searching for the imaginary grandmother of an imaginary boy. He soon realizes, however, that he is actually in search of something else. Unlike the children's story that he initially set out to write, The Last Berliner is actually a mosaic of travel stories, of unpublished material and "funny, sad, moving and banal events" written about in newspaper columns. It is thus an exploration of Germany, Israel and the Holocaust -- the story of shadows, the "echoes of footsteps" of millions of Jews.
During his travels in Germany, Kaniuk encounters numerous people who all have stories to tell about the war – where they were, how they survived (if they were Jews), or in what capacity they served (if they were Germans). Kaniuk interweaves these stories, as well as others, with his meditations on the paradox of the German cultural Renaissance on the one hand and its horrific killing industry on the other; on how present-day Germany is dealing with the Holocaust and appropriate ways to commemorate it; on whether Germans and Jews can and should live together in Germany; on how Israel dealt with such events as the Eichmann trial and the Gulf War; on God; and on the need for an understanding of the Holocaust – and the seeming impossibility to make any sense of it.


Title The Last Berliner
Author’s Last Name Kaniuk
Author's First Name Yoram
Language(s) German, French
Genre travel
Publisher (Hebrew) Yedioth Ahronoth
Year of Publication (Hebrew) 2004
No. Pages 221 pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Ha-Berlinaʹi Ha-Acharon
Representation Represented by ITHL

Translations

German: Munich, Paul List, 2002; Berlin, Aufbau, forthcoming 
French: Paris, Fayard, 2003
 
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