Waiting for Leah

Random House

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On the outskirts of Terezin, the concentration camp created by the Nazis in northern Bohemia as a staging post for the transport of Jews to Poland, a 17-year-old boy encounters Vili Feld, a pre-war acquaintance and the seducer of the teenager's former girlfriend. It is September 1944: the war is going badly for the Germans, and they are in a hurry to complete their "final solutions". Compromises are being made on all sides, conditions are unspeakable, rumours are rife, but nothing definite is known of the Nazis' intentions. Or perhaps what is known is deliberately not being believed. 

Having enlisted the young narrator to help him smuggle contraband into the camp, Vili invites the lad to the attic room he occupies with his 18-year-old companion, Leah. She, having been deported from Holland and lost her family, like most others in the camp, has given up living in accordance with her beliefs. Or, at the very least, she finds herself questioning them obsessively. The attraction -- both erotic and spiritual -- between her and the narrator, still relatively unaffected by the moral disintegration around him, is instant and overwhelming. Thus begins a brief but intense entanglement against the backdrop of inevitable transport to the East, where an unknown future awaits. In Waiting for Leah, Arnost Lustig memorably evokes a trio of young people and the fraught web of their relationships in a moving narrative of impossible moral choices made in the face of almost certain death. 

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