Lovely Green Eyes

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A devastatingly beautiful novel set in World War II in which a young girl explores the compromises one makes in order to survive.
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Lovely Green Eyes: A Novel

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A devastatingly beautiful novel set in World War II in which a young girl explores the compromises one makes in order to survive.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Prague-born Lustig (The Bitter Smell of Almonds) adds this chronicle of a resilient teenage girl to his highly regarded oeuvre of spare and haunting novels rooted in the Holocaust. The "lovely green eyes" of the title belong to 15-year-old Hanka "Skinny" Kaudersova, a shy, ginger-haired girl and the only member of her family to avoid death in Auschwitz. At first a cleaner in a camp hospital lab (where the doctor sterilizes her), she continues to evade extermination by lying about her age and her heritage (passing herself as Aryan) and is requisitioned as a prostitute in the German military field brothels. In a typical workday, Hanka services at least a dozen soldiers, many of whom are distraught and violent. Lustig presents the brothel clients as fully rounded characters, both viciously prejudiced against Jews and kind to the (Czech, they think) girl whose body they use. Constant hunger, freezing temperatures and disease further weaken Skinny's spirit, but as the war ends, she realizes she must search for her place in a world built on ashes. A rabbi, who is himself drowning in despair, attempts to offer her solace, but she's unable to shed her shame and guilt. Back in Prague, agonized by nightmarish memories, she settles in with a group of survivors and meets the narrator, whose declaration of love eventually thaws her heart. Lustig's prose is evocative at the same time it is sparse, even during harrowing scenes of physical and mental cruelty. Aided by a fine translation, this is a stunning work, worthy of comparison to those by Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi. In imagining the ordeal of a young girl "who had looked on the devil 12 times a day," Lustig has created an unforgettable character within whom "remembrance and oblivion contended," but who still summons the courage to affirm life. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A Feldhure, or army prostitute, working in Feldbordell No. 232 Ost somewhere near the eastern front during World War II, Skinny is known to the German soldiers who frequent the camp brothel as Lovely Green Eyes. Managing to pass as a gentile and lying about her age the 15-year-old comes by her position after her entire family perishes at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the brothel, her daily quota is a dozen German soldiers, sometimes more, back from the front. With the sparest prose whose harrowing monotone only increases our sensation of horror, the author covers Skinny's daily routine amid the executions, medical experiments, gassings, and incinerations that are the fabric of camp life. This includes listening in her cubicle to the rantings of German officers convinced that the Reich will last forever. With this highly original novel, written in the tradition of bearing witness, Lustig (The Bitter Smell of Almonds), himself a survivor of the death camps, brings our understanding one step closer to the abyss in which countless millions died. Recommended for all literary collections. Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The latest (2000) novel from the Czech author of more than a dozen fictional treatments of the Holocaust and its aftershocks tells the grim story of 15-year-old Hanka Kaudersova, who survives Auschwitz by serving as a prostitute for its Nazi masters. The intense narrative focuses as well on both a thoughtful German officer who lectures Hanka about the "beauty" of slaughter and on an impotent sadomasochist who's Hitlerism incarnate, then follows Hanka through war's end, repentance for her "sins," and salvation via marriage. Lustig's penchants for abstract and flat statement dilute his story's force. But Lovely Green Eyes does rein in a lot of the hyperbole that marred much of his earlier fiction; as a result, this is one of this very uneven writer's better efforts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611451870
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,331,108
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 5.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

From early morning, units of the warren-SS had been arriving. They had demanded an extension of the shift until 4 p.m.

Fifteen: Hermann Hammer, Fritz Blücher, Reinhold
Wuppertal, Siegfried Fuchs, Bert Lippert, Hugo Redinger,
Liebel Ulrich, Alvis Graff, Siegmund Schwerstei, Herbert
Ground, Hans Frische, Arnold Frey, Philipp Petsch,
Mathias Krebs, Ernst Lindow.

For the past three days the frost had been severe. The pipes in the former agricultural estate had burst when the water in them froze. The girls had been provided with two new tubs, but the water froze rock hard in these too. The river had frozen over. Iron rusted, steel fractured. Once or twice a train halted by the bridge because its engine's boilers had burst. Inside, the plaster in the building developed mould and the walls of the cubicles turned black with soot from the stoves. The waiting room and the canteen, with its long table for 60 people, were no better. The living quarters resembled a bacon-curing shop.

    Overnight the walls had acquired a crest of snow, like a chef's white hat pushed up from his forehead. At dawn, when the blizzard was over, when the wind had blown away the clouds and it was no longer snowing, it looked as if what lay on the ground was blood. For a few minutes the snow was steeped in purple and ruby red. An invisible silence hung over the landscape.

    Inside, along the corridor, an inscription in spiky Gothic letters (the flashes of the SS insignia were ancient runes) declared: We were born to perish.

    The silence was brokenby a truck or a bus making for the field brothel. From the distance, from between the sky and the ground, came the rumble of artillery.

    She had woken in the middle of the night. She had pain between her legs. Before her eyes and in her ears was the Pole who'd stood at the ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau when they'd stumbled from the trains—the deep, chesty voice of a broad-shouldered soldier of the Kanada squad who, over and over, had ordered the mothers to give the children to their grandmothers.

    "Don't ask why. Do it now!"

    Having passed the doctors at the end of the long line who sent people either to the left or to the right, she had arrived at the Frauenkonzentrationslager and there understood the meaning of the order.

    "Give the children to their grandmothers".

    The old women and the children had gone straight from the ramp to the gas chambers.

This is the story of my love. It is about love almost as much as it is about killing; about one of love's many faces: killing. It is about No. 232 Ost, the army brothel that stood in the agricultural estate by the River San before the German army retreated further west; about 21 days, about what a girl of 15 endured; about what it means to have the choice of going on living or of being killed, between choosing to go to the gas chamber or volunteering to work in a field brothel as an Aryan girl. It is about what memory or oblivion will or will not do.

    I fell in love with Hanka Kaudersová's smile, with the wrinkles of a now 16-year-old, with the effect her face had on me. What saves me, apart from the uncertainty of it, is time. There are fragments out of which an event is composed, there are its colours and shades. And there is horror.

    On that last day before the evacuation of No. 232 Ost, before they put Madam Kulikowa up against the back wall a few steps from the kitchen, and the first salvo shattered her teeth, she'd said that deep down she had expected nothing better.

Twelve: Karl Gottlob Hain, Johann Obersaltzer, Wilhelm Tietze, Arnold Köhler, Gottfried Lindner, Moritz Krantz, Andreas Schmidt, Granz Biermann, Carolus Mautch, August Kreuter, Felix Körner, Jorgen Hofer-Wettermann.

    In my mind I can hear Madam Kulikowa introducing Skinny Kaudersová to No. 232. Ost on that first Friday morning ... Anything that is not specifically permitted is forbidden. (This was something Skinny already knew from the Frauenkonzentrationslager at Auschwitz-Birkenau.) Regulations are posted on the cubicle doors. The soldier is always right. Kissing is forbidden. Unconditional obedience is demanded. You must not ask for anything.

    "Any perks we share equally," Madam Kulikowa said, with both uncertainty and cunning. "A man is like a child and generally behaves like one. He expects to get everything he wants. He will expect you to treat him unselfishly, like a mother."

    She urged her to think of pleasanter things.

    Oberführer Schimmelpfennig had ordered the following notice to be posted on the doors of the cubicles, in the waiting room and in the washroom.

With immediate effect, it is forbidden to provide services without a rubber sheath. Most strictly prohibited are: Anal, oral or brutal intercourse; To take urine or semen into the mouth or anus; To re-use contraceptives.

    During roll-call one day, Oberführer Schimmelpfennig threatened to import Gypsy women to the estate. He knew of at least five brothels in Bessarabia where they were employed. "No-one here is indispensable," he said.

Twelve: Heinrich Faust, Felix Schellenberg, Fritz Zossen, Siegfried Skarabis, Adolf Seidel, Günther Eichmann, Hans Scerba, Rudolf Weinmann, Hugon Gerhard Rossel, Ernst Heidenkampf, Manfred Wostrell, Eberhardt Bergel.

In the evening, as they were sweeping by the gate which carried the German eagle, Skinny arranged the snow into symmetrical piles, and wondered whether she was punishing herself for being alive. What had become of Big-Belly, from whom she'd inherited Cubicle No. 16 and a pot for heating water and a small cask? Where was Krikri? Or Maria-Giselle? The first two had gone to the wall, the third to the "Hotel for Foreigners" at Festung Breslau. Here, as Oberführer Schimmelpfennig put it, Skinny was serving her apprenticeship. What kind of girl was Beautiful? Or Estelle, Maria-from-Poznan, Long-Legs, Fatty, Smartie and the others? What was the name, or the nickname, of the girl who died at two in the morning three days after Schimmelpfenning's botched attempt at an appendectomy?

    "If you don't sleep you'll feel like death warmed up in the morning," said Estelle later that night. "You won't change anything by not sleeping."

    There was fresh snow. A train with troops on home leave rattled across the steel bridge over the river.

    "This is what it must be like in the Bering Straits," Estelle said. "Except for those wintering, there isn't a soul about."

    Skinny had never heard of the Bering Straits.

    "Twenty-four hours of darkness every day. An ocean of ice," Estelle said.

    "How deep is it?" Skinny wanted to know.

    "Never mind. Go to sleep."

    Suddenly Estelle said: "Do you think anybody knows the truth?"

    "About what?"

    "About you. About me. About the Oberführer or Madam Kulikowa."

    "My head is spinning," said Skinny. "I have to get some sleep."

    "My memory is failing me," Estelle said.

    "You should be grateful."



    Skinny's eyes were falling shut. In a moment she would be asleep. It was cold and she would be frozen stiff by the morning. In the cubicle, with a soldier, it was at least warm, but the Oberführer did not allow the girls' dormitories to be heated. They could nestle up to each other, he'd said. Skinny fell asleep thinking of the Frauenkonzentrationslager at Auschwitz-Birkenau, when she was still with her mother and her father. Before her father had thrown himself against the high-voltage fence and her mother was taken away at a selection parade. Her brother had gone to the gas chamber straight from the ramp.

    Sometime before dawn Estelle said to her: "Did you know that you wake up, say something about your father and then fall asleep again? You sit up, half comb your hair, but you lack the strength to finish."

    "Do I talk in my sleep?"

    "Only about your father. You turn about a bit."

    "I'm tired."

    "That's all right."

Excerpted from LOVELY GREEN EYES by Arnošt Lustig. Copyright © 2000 by Arnošt Lustig. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2012


    I didn't care for this book. I have read several books regarding the holocaust and this is the only one l didn't like. I didn't finish it - ended up deleting it from my library.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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