The Schmooze

Jurek Becker: Forget the Films, Read the Books

Judging any author by the film adaptations of his books is perilous, but few examples are as unfair as Jurek Becker (1937-1997), a German-language Polish Jewish writer who survived the Łódź Ghetto, Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen. Becker’s most famous novel, 1969’s “Jakob the Liar” (Jakob der Lügner) still merits rereading, despite the uneven 1999 movie adaptation starring Robin Williams.

Available from Arcade Publishing, along with a 1976 follow-up, “The Boxer,” “Jakob the Liar” tried to come to terms with the unthinkable, yet not without humor. An earlier, better 1975 East German film adaption, “Jakob, der Lügner,” still suffers as a dated contribution to the ever-evolving genre of Holocaust movies.

Among Becker’s other novels, 1978’s “Sleepless Days” from Mariner Books and 1982’s “Bronstein’s Children” from University of Chicago Press are of continued interest, as is the biography, “Jurek Becker: A Life in Five Worlds” also from University of Chicago Press. The latter is by Sander Gilman, who has published widely on, among other subjects, psychoanalysis.

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Jurek Becker: Forget the Films, Read the Books

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