‘Purim Night’ by Edith Pearlman

What’s so good about ‘Purim Night’ is that it’s such a sweet story, and yet it’s set in a dismal place – a displaced persons camp in Germany in 1947, populated by war refugees, concentration camp survivors, and former prisoners of war. One of the characters even recounts the deaths of her husband and best friend, her time in concentration camp, her “one rape and many beatings” – and yet I’d still call this story ‘sweet’. I think it’s partly because there’s a glimpse of a beautiful love story in it, an easy but miraculous love, and a surprise for the reader. 

It’s also because despite the fact the camp is impoverished and improvised, there’s an unusual sense of warmth in it. These people, celebrating Purim, have survived annihilation, and they are celebrating in the very land this was meant to happen in; their TB hospital was not so long ago a Wehrmacht stable. The ending is difficult; the woman who has lost her husband and best friend is fixated on going to Israel – there, she is sure, she will be saved. The sad naivety of this, her need for this hope, and the awful reality of such dreams today makes for a gruelling moment – which is, I’m sure, exactly what Pearlman intends. 

First published in Binocular Vision, Pushkin Press, 2014

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