A Scrap of Time and Other Stories by Ida Fink
I can already guarantee that the short story collection, A Scrap of Time and Other Stories by Ida Fink (English edition, 1995, translated from the original Polish by Madeline Levine and Francine Prose), is going to make my list of favorite reads of 2011.
After spending part of World War II in the Zbaraz (Poland) ghetto, author Fink escaped and spent the rest of the war in hiding with fake papers. She later emigrated to Israel, where she lives today, now retired from her position at Yad Vashem (highly recommended by me as a place to visit if you have the fortune to get to Jerusalem one day).
Fink's personal experience, both during the war and while conducting interviews of other survivors for Yad Vashem, and deep feeling illuminate almost every one of the stories in this fictional collection about the Holocaust. Each story is literally a "scrap of time" in the lives of the characters.
Not surprisingly, the two stories I felt the most as a reader involved young children. In one story, the parents are training their three-year-old son how to answer the door if the Nazis come for his Jewish father while his mother is at work. "Training" involves stalling to give his father enough time to hide, and then telling whoever is at the door that his father is already dead. At age three.
The other story involves the parents of a five-year-old girl and the night the Gestapo comes for all of them. I had tears streaming down my cheeks while reading them discuss how they never would have had her if they had known what was coming, all while they watched her sleep. All while knowing they couldn't protect her.
The only story from the 23-story collection I didn't appreciate happens to be the very last entry, involving testimony at a war crimes trial. That story seemed somehow more removed and not as personal as the other stories. Everything else in the collection resonates.
Only one misstep in a short story collection is amazing, though.
My overall personal rating of A Scrap of Time and Other Stories is an A.