God's Horse and The Atheists' School

God's Horse and The Atheists' School


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Wilhelm Dichter's autobiographical novels, God's Horse and The Atheists' School, have been translated into English for the first time and are presented here in a single volume. From the gradually maturing perspective of the narrator, a Polish Jewish youngster, they recount the harrowing tale of his family's struggle to survive the Holocaust and their privileged post-Holocaust lives as members of Poland's political elite. God's Horse depicts the sudden reversal of victim status that occurred when, in the postwar period, the hidden Jewish child became a little Red prince, thanks to his stepfather, a Jewish rising star in the communist regime. The Atheists' School, the sequel, follows the narrator through the years of high Stalinism into young adulthood and depicts the tensions between dedicated Jewish communists, some of whom join the elite, and Jews who are convinced that the Jews in Poland will inevitably be victimized again. 

In spare, precise prose, Dichter brings to life the tensions between ideologues and pragmatists, Polish patriots and their Soviet masters. These evocative novels also provide a psychologically persuasive and profoundly moving portrait of the narrator. The author's alter ego, supported by his stalwart and overly indulgent mother, possesses the tenacity to transform himself from an awkward, traumatized child survivor into an unsettled but eventually independent-minded young man.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810127937
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 02/29/2012
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 668,492
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Born in what is now Ukraine in 1935, Wilhelm Dichter survived the war in hiding, then lived in Warsaw until leaving Poland for the US in 1968. His first book, God’s Horse, was published in 1996 and nominated for the Nike Prize, followed by The Atheists’ School in 1999 and English Lessons in 2010.

Madeline G. Levine is Kenan Professor of Slavic Literatures Emerita at UNC - Chapel Hill. Among the books she has translated are A Scrap of Time and Other Stories by Ida Fink (Northwestern University Press, 1995), The Woman from Hamburg and Other True Stories by Hanna Krall (2005), and several volumes of prose by Czeslaw Milosz.

Table of Contents

Before Everything
Polish Times
Russian Times
Under the Bed in Boryslaw
On Palska Street
Under the Bed
In the Garret
In the Attic
In the Well
Right After the War
On Stalin Street
Mother and Michal
At Winkler's
In a Formerly German Apartment
The Oil King's Son
In the Morning
Sunday Afternoon
In Power
Farewell to Trzebinia
Over the Butcher Shop
At Queen Jadwiga School
Two Michals

A Funeral Procession
The Ophthalmologist
The Grand Hotel
Pan Józio's Gallery
There Was Nothing Between Us
A Drop of Socialism
A Ship in the City
Latin Lessons
Let Us Love One Another
Birthday Conversations
No Help from Anywhere
The Death of a Communard
Certificate of Maturity
Under the Linden Tree

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God's Horse and the Atheists' School 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Dick_Strawser More than 1 year ago
Consider these dates: Wilhelm Dichter was born in Poland in 1935, an area occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939, then by the Germans in 1941. Though “Dichter” is a German word – it means ‘poet’ – Wilhelm’s father’s name was Rabinowicz and his family was part of the Jewish community that transcended the political boundaries of the day. Reading about this period of his life was more powerful for his narrative style. Some reviews describe its clipped and uncomplicated sentences as “Hemingway-like,” though I think that’s inaccurate. Dichter’s style in “God’s Horse,” the 1st volume of his story, may be telescoped and simple but its viewpoint is that of a child, not an adult looking back on his childhood and certainly not that of an adult with an aversion for subordinate clauses. It is this child-like simplicity that gives this part of his story its impact. If a child could not comprehend the horror he was experiencing, simple direct prose can seem indifferent – this, then, was ‘normal’ – but the adults who are reading it can infer what he only implies. A child who should describe the joy of, say, going to visit his grandparents on a sunny day is instead remembering leaving the attic where his family’d been hiding, his mother taking him along to visit her sister’s family who was hiding in a well outside of town and how a bomb had hit the house while they were gone, exposing the attic. His father, ill with tuberculosis and always afraid his coughing would give them away, had hung himself by his tie. I cannot imagine how difficult it was to remember such details and write them down much less to have lived them, but the story moves on from there, during the transition to Communism, his mother marrying a man who had also lost his family, then adopting his name – Dichter – now facing another form of discrimination, having a German last name in Russian-dominated Polish society that equates Germanness with atrocity. His awareness of the world, growing up with the political propaganda, not just the bullying that seems to be universal at this age, shifts again in the formative years of his early teens. The writing style changes subtly with his maturing viewpoint. He observes squabbles within his family and their friends, tinged by the best-forgotten past and the delicate balance of the party line. He deals with issues any young teenager would face – he liked to draw, would he become an artist? or an engineer like his step-father? The drudgery of school, the grayness of living in a Warsaw still being reclaimed from the war’s rubble, are all part of this growing up. The history I learned in school was primarily a collection of wars and battles, kings and presidents, rarely noticing there were people who lived under them or died on their battlefields. We read biographies of famous people or novels about them. But very rarely do we glimpse the daily life, the average people who usually count for nothing in the greater historic scheme, dealing with the realities these so-called great men have created. This is a riveting story that is more than just a story. When I finished reading it, I thought someone should make a movie of this – it doesn’t need the usual Transformers or comic-book Super Heroes that inhabit movies so popular these days. Instead of animated figures, they’re real people, here, real heroes. And in a way, wouldn’t we – on the outside – learn more from real people than from computer-generated graphics?