The Accidental Anarchist: From the Diaries of Jacob Marateckby Bryna Kranzler, Shimon Wincelberg, Anita Marateck Wincelberg
The story is
The Accidental Anarchist is the true story of Jacob Marateck, an Orthodox Jew who was sentenced to death three times in the early 1900s in Russia -- and lived to tell about it. He also happens to have been the author's grandfather. The book is based on the diaries that Marateck began keeping in 1905. That was when he decided to overthrow the Czar . . .
The story is told in Marateck's voice, and is characterized by his remarkable humor and irony that contrasted with the circumstances and were key to his survival. It includes a rare, soldier's-eye view of a little-known war that changed the geopolitical status of several nations.
Kranzler, Marateck's granddaughter, is a playwright who received the Helen Prince Award for Excellence in Dramatic Writing and was a finalist in the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center competition for her play Do Hermaphrodites Reproduce Only in the Spring? Her parents, Shimon and Anita Marateck Wincelberg, had previously translated the twenty-eight notebooks that made up Marateck's diaries and published the first twelve as The Samurai of Vishigrod. After her father passed away, Kranzler inherited the job of editing and publishing the rest of her grandfather's diaries.
The Accidental Anarchist is told from Jacob's point of view, and his dry wit is evident throughout, leaving the reader with a sense of optimism even amid war, starvation, and imprisonment. "The seemingly minor decision I made to end my education before the age of thirteen set me on a path from which each subsequent choice flowed logically from the previous foolish one," Marateck wrote. As a Jewish man in a notoriously anti-Semitic army, he went from fighting with his fellow soldiers to fighting an impossible war against the Japanese in China. Twice he was sentenced to death: once for punching a superior, and once for falling asleep on guard duty. Twice he was surprised to find the sentences overturned. After surviving freezing nights, endless marches without food, and gun battles, he returned to Warsaw to join the revolutionaries, only to be arrested and sentenced to death again. At the last minute he received a reprieve and was shipped instead to a Siberian labor camp. Through all of these adventures, despite being surrounded by death, Marateck's wit, intelligence, and optimism carried him through. Readers interested in European or Jewish history, war stories, and just plain action adventure will enjoy this book. Kranzler's editing creates a smooth style with a quick pace while retaining her grandfather's unique voice and perspective. The Accidental Anarchist is the true story of a likable hero on an epic journey.
Reality and three narrowly dodged death sentences kind of puts a damper on that illusion as 13-year old Jacob Marateck, citing "the ignorance of youth and a desire for grand adventure," leaves his small Polish hometown to seek some rudderless escapades in the Warsaw of the absorbing and often black-humored true story The Accidental Anarchist.
Indeed, the adventures in this novel are many, and unforeseen. Varietyspiced life mixed with historical events of the 1900s in Russia and Poland sees Marateck moving on from student to baker's assistant, labor organizer to an officer in the Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 against the Japanese in China. Marateck has his own struggles close at hand, too, in situations "in which the men under my command wanted to kill me, simply for being a Jew, as much as the enemy did, simply for being in the way."
At the same time, a fervent Marateck tries to contribute to the rumblings of revolution then underway, intent on doing his bit in overthrowing Czar Nicholas II — including joining in "amateur spy missions that would have gotten a Hollywood screenwriter fired." But in the course of these uncertain times, he is sentenced to death three times, the first two times for, respectively, hitting a superior, and then for falling asleep on guard duty. Having narrowly averted execution in most entertaining and unexpected fashion, Marateck is then left to face the harsh Russian and Asian winters, surviving sub-zero nights, starvation-tested marches, and ongoing gun battles. Returning to Warsaw to catch up with the revolutionaries, Marateck is arrested and sentenced to death again. But three times's a charmed life, if you want to call it that, as he ultimately receives a reprieve and is sent instead to a Siberian labor camp. After escaping his fate of hard labor and permanent exile in Siberia with Warsaw's eccentric "King of Thieves," the two strive to survive while roaming the expanse of Russia from Petersburg to Siberia. The objective: obtain false papers to travel home while avoiding the Secret Police. With more adventures in different circumstances, the rollicking and rewarding second half of The Accidental Anarchist, ensues.
It's all part and parcel of the the book's captivating plot that gets a big boost from the writing and the characterization. "It is not the circumstances of our lives that determine who we are," notes Kranzler in her Dedication, "but rather the way we choose to interpret them that defines our personalities and, to some extent, our destinies."
In the author's first-person narrator Marateck, then, we have a likeable interpreter whose wit, selfdeprecation, and hopefulness shape and shift the defining moments of the novel, and see us through the grim circumstances of war and volatile political times. Through all that Marateck has experienced and endured, the narrative outlook carries us through the bleakness and death with unflinching directness and dark humor. We're placed in the midst of war or 24/7 evasions from the government officials, replete with confusion, snafus, and Catch-22 frustrations.
And so, one page surrounds us in the chaos of battle and trench warfare, where Marateck helps transport a would-be wounded lieutenant, who turns out "was without a head and probably had been for some time." Then the turn of a page will put us smack dab in the absurd midst of a scene where a dithering general has gotten his brigade lost: "We plodded on past devastated villages and frozen, long-unburied corpses until, at sunrise, our general, perplexed, halted the column and politely asked some blank-faced Manchurian peasants if they could tell him where to find the battlefield."
Somewhere in that gray area between dire and droll lies one (among other) Marx Brothers-moment in which Marateck and his men had been seemingly "ditched": "Our battalion, it seemed, had been ordered to retreat while we slept … and no one had bothered to wake us." The situation might have been considered darkly amusing had the aftermath not been one of hardship and deadliness in wintry conditions over enemy lines. Even Marateck, long inured to the harsh contingencies of wartime experience, had kicked up his anticipatory dread and defenses a notch or two by now, saying "I'd never had any romantic notions of combat being anything other than terrible, but I had not expected it to be this terrible." But no matter what side of the emotional gamut is being explored, Kranzler's vivid and visceral writing, anchored to the rock solid and consistent depiction of the protagonist and the force of history, makes for a seamless and cohesive page-chaser. The fact that this is a labor of familial love no doubt helps, too: Awardwinning playwright Kranzler, Marateck's granddaughter, is the daughter of Shimon and Anita Marateck Wincelberg, who had previously translated the 28 notebooks that made up Marateck's diaries, publishing the first 12 as The Samurai of Vishigrod. After her father passed away, Kranzler inherited the job of editing and publishing the rest of her grandfather's diaries. Presumably because there was still a lot of work to do. And maybe because "There was simply too much fun to be had."
- Crosswalk Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.84(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 Years
Meet the Author
Bryna Kranzler is a graduate of Barnard College where she studied playwriting, and received the Helen Prince Memorial Prize for Dramatic Composition. Her first play was a finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Competition, and was scheduled for production twice: the first time, the theater owner died, and the season was shut down; the second time, the director committed suicide. For the benefit of the arts community, she got out of playwriting and earned an MBA from Yale University to make up for her misspent youth. She spent 15 years in marketing for health-care, high tech and consumer products companies before returning to writing.
Her first book, The Accidental Anarchist, is the winner of multiple awards, including the Sharp Writ Book Award for General Non-Fiction, the Readers Favorite Award for Historical/Cultural Non-Fiction, the International Book Award, and National Indie Excellence Award for a Historical Biography, and the "USA Best Books" Award for a Historical Biography.
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Kranzler's book is most definitely a page-turner. She has successfully preserved the voice and dry humor of her grandfather. I was immersed in his hair-raising, suspenseful account of war, survival and antisemitism. It is told in such an intimate fashion that I felt as if I were in his presence, sitting around a campfire in the woods as he told me of his adventures and narrow escapes from death. This is not only the tale of Jacob Marateck, but is representative of many Jews of Czarist Russia who were conscripted into the poorly equipped and badly organized army. Kranzler also illustrates the extreme antisemitism that was government policy, and consequent oppression that Russian Jews were subjected to. Present also is a theme that typically emerges in accounts of disenfranchised Jews driven from their homes, in this era and others. No longer a member of the orthodox community, and spurned by non-Jewish Russians, Jacob lived with one foot in each world while feeling he belonged to neither. This account is an important history lesson, offering a view of Czarist Russia that was much more common than, yet diametrically opposed to, the opulence and decadence of the aristocracy that is typically reported in accounts of that era. Kudos to Bryna Kranzler. Delin Colón, author of "Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History"
Our story begins in Poland at the dawn of the 20th century, when the country is occupied by Russia. Our hero, Jacob Marateck, lives in Vishigrod with his parents and brothers, and is conscripted into the Russian army to fight in the Russo-Japanese war which is centred in Manchuria. He is part of a constant stream of foot soldiers sent to do battle with the enemies of the Czar. He neither cares for the Czar nor his enemies and just wants to serve his time and head for home, with as little damage to body and mind as possible. Jacob’s diaries form the basis for this book which has been carefully transcribed by his granddaughter Bryna, ably assisted by her parents, who undertook the translation of the journals. The resulting story is a fascinating tale of war and the utter futility of countries throwing their young men at each other until one of them runs out of steam, or moves on to another conflict. Horrifying images are described by Jacob as he travels from his home to the various battlefronts and the difficulties he encounters along the way. In those days, as in many before and since, Jews were not the most popular citizens of Russian-occupied Poland, and their treatment in the army was no different. The hardships were many, and the tales of death and destruction numerous, but somehow Jacob survived to tell his story. He travelled thousands of miles in the service of the Czar, facing occasional imprisonment, death sentences, and terrible deprivation which made his survival all the more amazing. A fascinating story, which brings to life those violent and troubled times, through the words of someone who was there. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well written historical biography and is interested in European history.
To read a diary provides an opportunity to look into the diarist's soul. The Accidental Anarchist by Bryna Kranzler is the story of her grandfather, Jacob Marateck, and the book provides just that opportunity. In the Author's Note Ms. Kranzler writes that "The objective was to create an entertaining and enlightening narrative without changing the story." She succeeded. Jacob Marateck and his family lived in Russian occupied Poland in the latter part of the 19th century. Most people were poor and his family was no exception. He could either go to school or be sent to learn a trade. He chose school and before his thirteenth birthday he decided studying was not for him. Without telling anyone that he was going home, he ran away from the yeshiva. Around the same time, a boy his age was found drowned. "Using good Polish logic, the authorities put the missing boy together with the dead boy, and wiped their hands of both cases with remarkable efficiency." His parents were notified of his death and mourned him- not for the last time. Upon returning home his family told him he "needed to find a job". He went to Warsaw and worked at unfulfilling jobs for about eight years. It was in Warsaw that he organized a strike that demanded daily work hours be reduced to twelve hours from twenty hours. The end result was not exactly what he wanted but he learned what he was capable of doing. In 1902 twenty-one year old Jacob, who is Jewish, is conscripted into the anti-Semitic Russian army. He survives two death sentences. Upon leaving the military he becomes part of the Polish revolutionary underground and receives his third death sentence. The sentence is commuted to ten years in a Siberian prison from which he and his most interesting friend escape! Their three thousand mile journey home is nothing short of miraculous and full of surprises. Jacob Marateck was a dignified man who was both courageous and honorable. Through the horrors of war, hunger and all the other hardships he endured his remarkable sense of humor was ever present. To read his story is a privilege. I highly recommend reading it. I received this book for free through Review The Book and I give this review of my own free will.