When he was 25, Jurek Becker completed the script for Jakob der Luegner (Jacob the Liar) after hearing an anecdote about a man who had owned a secret radio while interred in the Polish gehtto of Lodz. Under threat of the direst of consequences, the man took the risk of providing news to his neighbors about the advance of the red army. A survivor of the Lodz ghetto (and later Ravensbrueck and Sachenhausen) himself, Becker was inspired by this tidbit to imagine what might have happened a ghetto dweller named Jakob Heym had pretended to have a radio in order to spread hope to his neighbors. The resulting text is an intelligent, yet thoroughly readable study of questions like: Does Jakob act responsibly in lying, even though he has good intentions? Do his lies do more harm than good? What is real? What is true? And, ultimately: Do Jakob's attempts to provide hope really make any difference in the end, since they don't change the inevitable outcome?
I know it sounds like a heavy, bulky text, but it is not. The subject matter is heavy, tragic, even moving, but thanks to one of the most interesting narrators ever created, Jakob's story is told in such a conversational, human, sometimes even humorous tone that its questions don't weigh the mind down even as they occupy it. Jacob's story holds some moments of great sweetness, friendship, and love amidst all of the ugliness of a daily life spent waiting for what one knows will ultimately be a tragic ending. All of this makes it just the kind of intelligent, thought provoking read I adore, as well as the kind I can recommend without reservation. Seriously. Read it. You won't be sorry.
(Take that, Oprah's Book Club!)