Saturday, September 14, 2013


Translated by Philip Boehm

Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman is Minka Pradelski's enchanting novel of listening and telling, of the silence between Holocaust survivors and their children, and of the power of stories to mend broken bonds.

When feisty young Tsippy Silberberg of the curious eating habits receives word from Tel Aviv that a distant aunt has left her a mysterious inheritance—an incomplete fish service in a battered brown suitcase—she decides to break her rigid routine and go collect it in person. But before she is even able to settle into her hotel room, an odd old woman bangs on her door and invites herself in. Her name is Bella Kugelman, and she is determined to talk.

And talk she does, with wondrous effect. Soon the room is filled with people—residents of the Polish town of Bedzin before the war, who now live on, if only in Mrs. Kugelman’s stories. Flirtatious girls and sly shopkeepers, rich industrialists and a family so poor that their necks are bent over from looking for coins—in tale after tale, a town magically returns to life, even as its grim future looms darkly. And under the thrall of Mrs. Kugelman’s words, Tsippy finally pieces together her aunt’s strange bequest, as well as her own place in the story unfolding before her.
The Silver Chest

I didn’t learn of my aunt Halina’s death until a whole month after she had passed away or, more precisely, three hours after the lawyer serving as her executor read out her will. My relatives know that my unusual eating habits make it difficult for me to travel and I can’t just go flying off to Tel Aviv on the spur of the moment. So when she died, it never occurred to them to let me know.

The lawyer sent an itemized list of what she’d left me: one small brown suitcase, approximately seventy years old, and one silver chest lined with red velvet containing eight forks and nine knives of a fish service that once had twelve settings.
Halina’s children had no idea why she had included me at all, and I couldn’t figure out the reason for the old suitcase and the incomplete fish service, given that I hardly ever travel anywhere and never touch fish. I’ve refused to eat fish since I was little, to distance myself from my mother, a notorious murderess of fish. Every Friday morning, our bathtub was home to a young carp darting back and forth in the water until it wound up on a cutting board where my mother chopped it into pieces. And every week I watched with a fresh shudder of nausea as the cut-up bits twitched for an hour as if still alive. In my bed at night, I willed the quivering fragments to grow back together and the fish to jump off the board and splash into the tub and swim out the window into the river, where the muddy green current would carry it out to sea. Then it could swim back to our house the next Friday.

Of course I could have had the suitcase and the fish service shipped to me. But I wanted to collect my inheritance in person. And the suitcase might just bring me luck, I thought, since I’m desperately searching for a husband. Maybe I’ll find one in Tel Aviv. Several months ago I was struck by an intense desire to get married: out of the blue I started yearning for dishes spilling out of the sink and stacks of clothes to iron, and nothing seemed more appealing than the deafening screams of little babies. By chance I discovered a playground near my apartment, where I loved to watch the children ride the seesaw and totter around. I peered curiously into every passing stroller and was quickly able to tell a child’s precise age down to the day. Soon after that I mastered baby talk. Infants would reach for me with their tiny arms; toddlers started to crawl in my direction or stagger over on their shaky little legs, just to be near me. But I didn’t give much thought to this development until my neighbor’s one-year-old pronounced her first word, my name, and gazed at me, full of expectation, to the horror of her parents, whose relationship with me is strained because of the nighttime noise coming from my apartment.
Luckily I recognized this was a signal from my own children—a sign of their wish to be born. And now I’ve made up my mind: I, Tsippy Silberberg, am going to start a family. To finish reading this excerpt, visit the publisher's website HERE.

"Charming and persuasive . . . a fascinating mix of comedy and pathos."—Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered

"One part spry farce, one part moving meditation, and a book that keeps the reader enthralled by that somewhat quaint yet still supremely effective narrative approach, tale-telling."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"From the moment Mrs. Kugelman walks into the room, plops herself down, and begins talking about her village in pre-war Poland, she completely captivates the reader. Her charming characters are so wholly felt and authentically rendered, it is impossible not to be transported back to another time, to the innocence of a thriving, happy community that is ultimately shattered by war. Most of all, it reminds us that one way to recover is to tell each other our stories—to remember, fully, who we were and are."—Rebecca Barry, author of Later, at the Bar: A Novel in Stories

"What a delightful narrator! What a scintillating cast of characters! What laughter and heartbreak in this world that is lovingly, achingly, whimsically, magically drawn for us. Readers, you are in for a treat."
—Chitra Divakaruni, author of Oleander Girl and The Mistress of Spices

"Magical . . . Pradelski successfully walks a tightrope between farce and tragedy, comedy and deep feeling."
—Die Literarische Welt

Sociologist and documentary filmmaker Minka Pradelski has spent decades exploring the psychological effects of the Holocaust on survivors—such as her own parents—and their children. An honorary member of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, she lives in Frankfurt, Germany. Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman is her first novel.
Where are you from?

Who are your favorite writers?
Heinrich Mann, Jose Samarago, Meir Shalev

Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Everything I have read in my life has influenced my thinking and writing

What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Literature, film, and theatre. Light exercize to complement my sedentary activities. I have close friends who mean a lot to me.

What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
Never give up

What is the question most commonly asked by your readers? What is the answer?
1) How this book came about.
It started with an interview for the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation
2) Whether I have visited Bendzin while I was writing the novel.
No I did not. Only after writing.
3) Non-Jewish readers in Germany wished to meet such a Mrs. Kugelmann, a narrator of their own history that had been withheld from them.

What inspired you to write your first book?
I interviewed a survivor for the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation. The survivor asked me not to forget his hometown in Poland: Bendzin.

Where do you write?
In my old apartment, at my old desk, on my old computer. Recently I had to exchange my old chair, what a pity!

Because all my followers are so wise, I'd love to hear your comment(s) on HERE COMES MRS. KUGELMAN. Although there are no regular giveaways for a while, one never can tell when a comment that impresses me just might catch my eye and attention, thus prompting me to do a special giveaway to one wise commenter. This will happen during the time I am taking a break from regular blogging so I hope to hear from you.


Margie said...

The secret behind the old suitcase and the incomplete fish service is intriguing! Sounds like an excellent book of thoughtful storytelling, leaving the reader with much to think about.
mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

traveler said...

i am captivated with this wonderful feature and book which transports me to another era and place. I have read about this and find it profound as well as unforgettable. Since I read a great deal about the Holocaust, fiction and non-fiction and am Jewish this book for its uniqueness and beauty appeals to me greatly. The interview was very interesting and the praise wonderful. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

petite said...

I loved this excerpt and learning about the author and this book. What a treasure which I would cherish and then give to my children. I would enjoy meeting this woman who is to be admired as she is talented, exploring an important subject and an honorary member of the Shoah Foundation which is indeed an honor. thanks for this extraordinary post. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

Karen B said...

My first thought was Steven Spielberg and the stories his foundation are collecting. If only people would listen more - to the spoken word. So many wonderful family stories are lost.
This book sounds magical!

holdenj said...

I read this recently too. I was kind of disappointed I didn't love it as much as I thought I would from the synopsis. I liked Mrs. Kugelman's story telling a lot, but could have done without Tsippy's somewhat unexplained eccentricities.

Linda Kish said...

That's a time I think we all need to remember whether it's through a novel such as this or through a factual recounting of the times. Soon, this will only be in books as all of the survivors will be gone. This sounds like an interesting book of stories that could have happened.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

Bingo said...

I am happy that many of you took time to leave comments about this book. It is a bit different from the usual fare but such an important topic...just done in a non traditional presentation. Thank you! I may put names in a hat and send my copy out to one of you! Will let you know!

Sue Farrell said...

I find the Holocaust an interesting and scary part or our planet's history. Sadly, so many of the young people really don't know much about it. Maybe a book like this would get them interested. I know the except has me wanting to read the rest and find out how this incomplete fish service is important.