Don’t read Anya by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer if all you want is a quick read about the Holocaust. Today’s writers are cranking out enough of those complete with prescribed character arcs and inciting incidents occurring within the first three pages guaranteed to keep you hooked. If, however, you’re willing to be stitched into the fabric of life of the protagonist, if you are willing to invest yourself in details and description, if you are interested in conversation that reads like it takes place at a large family gathering, then Anya just might be your novel.
The book reads like one long memory, and I believe it is this quality that makes the events of Anya’s life so seamless. The transition from well-off daughter, wife, and mother to a woman scrambling to keep her family together in the ghetto and then hold herself together mentally and physically in the concentration camps is so smooth. Perhaps it’s because very little detail about the war is provided as if the reader should already know the particulars of how, why, who, when, what, and where. Rather, we are given Anya’s perspective and reaction to everything that occurs. In fact, it’s very late in the war years that Hitler is even mentioned and only then as somebody far away who somehow has power over Anya’s life.
The reader will always be right in the moment with Anya. Schaeffer creates tension that keeps the reader from holding on to Anya’s past because the danger of the situation prevents one from mourning what was lost. There is simply no time to do so. That will come later. Maybe. As for the future, don’t bother contemplating it because it is inconceivable that a future—at least a positive one—could even exist with all Anya is forced to endure and to do just to survive. The only saving grace is that this is not your story, dear reader. Unless maybe it was.
What I found to be the most chilling as I lived Anya’s story with her was the fact that I mentally collected her actions and words to fall back on in case I found myself in a similar situation. Perhaps it is the political, social, and cultural climate of today that subconsciously prompted me. I honestly cannot say. Still, for a work of fiction, Anya is one novel whose influence and impact will stay with me for a long time. I have said before that finishing a well-written book was like leaving behind great friends. The same is true for Anya. The ghosts will live on.