"Engrossing . . . An eloquent testimony to the war's enduring, violent impact." starred review, “Best Books of 2015”, Kirkus Reviews
"Intense, moving . . . A deeply personal and important addition to Holocaust literature." starred review, Booklist
"[A] powerful consideration of what happens when reality contradicts our belief 'that those we love or have loved are good.'"The New Yorker
"A journey of discovery . . . thoughtful." Library Journal
"Heartfelt . . . Gabis paints an engrossing portrait of the snake-pit of ethnic animosities in wartime Lithuania, and of the intimate horrors of the Holocaust." Publishers Weekly
"In this intricate and intimate journey Rita Gabis brings macrocosmic Holocaust horror into the microcosm of our dining rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms--a noble feat, one you will not soon forget." New York Journal of Books
"A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet is Gabis’s gripping, psychologically acute account of her search for the truth about [her grandfather], a wrenching personal journey . . . Gabis’ resolute hunt and expressive prose really illuminate these years of anguish." BookPage
"Rita Gabis’s memoir--the result of more than three years of tenacious and innovative historical and personal research . . . is a mind-opening and heart-breaking account." Jewish Book Council
"More than any nonfiction I have read, A Guest at the Shooter's Banquet brings up close the Final Solution as lived in the forests and villages of Eastern Europe during the closing years of World War II. Most extraordinary is the intimacy with her own conscience that Rita Gabis affords us, as on her uncompromising quest she brings alive the Lithuania of her Jewish family, their friends and neighbors, the survivors and descendants who guide her, and the murderous and shocking complicity of her Catholic grandfather. This book has the richness and sweep of a saga novel, the bite of a thriller, and the revelatory shock of a great memoir." Honor Moore, author of THE BISHOP'S DAUGHTER
"Maturing from childhood to adulthood means accepting a place in family stories. Checking treasured myths against historical facts is like a second coming of age, and one rarely achieved. This true-life Bildungsroman sets an example, in its honesty, industry, and artfulness, for writers who wish to confront the past." Timothy Snyder, author of BLOODLANDS: EUROPE BETWEEN HITLER AND STALIN
"A most memorable book." St. Louis Dispatch
"This unsettling, unnerving book makes you think of the what-ifs of both the past and the present. Gabis touches so many who had never had the courage or ability to tell their stories, and those who had never heard them. This should be on everyone’s To Be Read list. It will make you examine your own conscience. Very highly recommended." Historical Novel Society
Guilty secrets and a searing identity crisis prompt an exploration of the Holocaust in this heartfelt though scattered personal history. Poet Gabis (The Wild Field), whose father was Jewish, learned that her beloved maternal grandfather was an official in the Lithuanian police force during the German occupation in WWII, and that he may have participated in atrocities including a massacre of 8,000 Jews and the execution of hundreds of Polish civilians. While investigating her grandfather’s life, she pieces together a kaleidoscopic assemblage of garbled family legends, archival research, interviews with witnesses and survivors, and fraught ruminations on her conflicted emotions. Her search for the truth sometimes seems self-involved (she dramatizes everything from a bout of food poisoning to a burst water-pipe in her apartment), and her self-conscious lyricism (an account of a massacre ends with an imagined pastorale of Jewish children “linking arms before the soccer goalie gets in position and the kick-off sends time spinning in the spring grass”) can feel strained, as though she doesn’t trust readers to register the tragedy in these events. Still, Gabis paints an engrossing portrait of the snake-pit of ethnic animosities in wartime Lithuania, and of the intimate horrors of the Holocaust. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Sept.)
Gabis (The Wild Field) has a personal connection to the Holocaust: her Lithuanian grandfather, a Nazi collaborator, may have participated in war crimes. This revelation is especially troubling for Gabis as her other grandparents were Ashkenazi Jews. The author's memoir is a journey of discovery, taking her from interviews with Lithuanian relatives—many of whom seek to forget the past—to the halls of the U.S. Justice Department's Nazi War Crimes division, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and as far as Lithuania and Jerusalem. Along the way, Gabis confronts not only her family's demons but many of her own, including memories of abuse by a male relative and the struggle to reconcile the grandfather she knew with his Nazi collaboration. The book features an impressive amount of archival research, and the author often tries to engage the ethical issues that sit at the heart of the Shoah. Yet her narrative seems more about the travails of her experience rather than the historical events she investigates. VERDICT There are few dramatic revelations for specialists, and general readers may have trouble keeping track of the myriad characters. However, this thoughtful account is recommended for general audiences.—Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll.
The daughter of a Lithuanian Catholic mother and Russian Jewish father, Gabis (The Wild Field, 1994) brings her sensibility as a poet and indefatigable energy as a historian to this engrossing memoir. As she notes, the author's family spoke little about their past. Gabis knew that her maternal grandparents had come to America after World War II; that her grandfather had fought bravely against Russian invaders; that her grandmother had been arrested and sent to labor camps. However, several years ago, she found out more: her grandfather had been a Nazi security chief in a town where at least two mass slaughters had occurred. Shocked, Gabis suddenly recalled anti-Semitic remarks he made as she was growing up. For the next several years, she became obsessed with one question: was the man she had loved a murderer? The author's research involved repeated trips to Israel, Poland, and Lithuania, where she still has relatives. In each place, she interviewed Holocaust survivors whose persecution she recounts in moving detail; in Lithuania, she talked with witnesses to Russian and German occupations. Lithuania, she discovered, "as a country…is indistinguishable from the invaders, collaborators, ghosts, heroines, thieves, defenders, and healers it contains….It's those who know nothing about what went on behind closed doors and those who stood by and watched, those who shrugged and walked away." The author also interviewed her aunts, whose stories were contradictory. Gabis petitioned for information from Lithuanian archives, discovered documents at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and eventually amassed some 400 pages of archival material. Her journey was frequently interrupted by obstacles: emergency heart surgery that delayed a research trip; a destructive flood in her apartment that damaged documents; food poisoning; her husband's illness. But the greatest obstacle proved to be the blurred, slippery past, which continually frustrated her. "If I didn't unravel" her grandfather's mystery, she thinks, "it would unravel me." An eloquent testimony to the war's enduring, violent impact.