Heart-wrenching, dark and violent, the King of Warsaw is a unique story of a boxer turned enforcer of a crime lord, Jakub Szapiro.
Title: The King of Warsaw
Author: Szczepan Twardoch
Published on: 21st April 2020 (translated version)
Genre: Literary Fiction
I knew this was literary fiction with elements of violence and hatred. I believe it is better to give you guys a trigger warning before moving on to the review. The King of Warsaw is not a book for the weak-hearted. Do not read it if you are feeling emotionally low. One will find details of violence, sexual abuse, murder, torture and dismembering of bodies throughout the story. Be warned that some of the details might give you nightmares. Nevertheless, if you can digest it, I recommend you to read The King of Warsaw. Read it for the story; read it for the emotional turmoil described here; Read it to get a picture of how life was in Poland before Hitler’s wrath.
The story starts with a scene of boxing. A young boy of seventeen, Mojzesz Bernsztajn, is watching Jakub Szapiro at the boxing ring. Jakub, the man who killed Mojzesz’s father a day ago, is fighting. He smashes his opponent and the Jewish crowd cheers while the Christian crowd boos. The King of Warsaw is not a story of the tiff between the Jews and the Christians in pre-war Poland. It is the story of two men – Jakub and Mojzesz – and how their lives mingled soon after Jakub killed Mojzesz’s father.
Jakub works as a right-hand man for a crime lord named Jan Kaplica. As Hitler rises to power and there’s tension brewing in Poland, Jews look to move to a land they call their own – Palestine. Jakub has everything in Poland – a wife and two kids, a luxurious house, a car and money. Why would he want to move to Palestine? And what would he do there? He’s sure that his fame would keep him and his family safe in Poland. Or, would it?
The King of Warsaw is a literary wonder. I have read a couple of translated books over the past couple of years and with translated works, it is either a hit or a miss. In this case, it was definitely a big hit! The translation work is so beautifully done it is hard to believe this book was initially written in Polish. Every emotion is so beautifully written (translated), I was attached to the story from the beginning. An unputdownable book for sure!
The King of Warsaw makes the reader cry. At times, it was heart-wrenching to read about the abuse or the hate crimes that people in this era had to go through. Though Kaplica was a bad guy, it was overwhelming to read his suffering in the latter part of the story. Jealousy, double-games and corruption ruin lives and Twardoch has put it in words beautifully.
A tad lengthy but the ending is worth it! The beginning might be a bit boring at times – it’s all about Mojzesz and Jakub. But the second half is where things change; this is where all the action is! The twist in the story is mind-blowing. The story is as written by Mojzesz. He keeps talking about Magda; his wife; or should I say, ex-wife? He’s no longer leaves the house. Yet there’s food in the fridge. Maybe Magda’s gotten it for him. She asks him not to call her Magda. But why? The answers are all there in the second half of the story – you will not see this twist coming, believe me!
This is the first of Twardoch’s books to be translated into English and I cannot wait to read more of his works. Beautifully written, well-depicted emotions and a wonderful piece of literary fiction. Compliments to the translator Sean Gasper Bye for his excellent work.