Moshe and Reizele
Mosje en Reizele is made up of three parts. The first section is contemporary and is set in Tel Aviv in 1995. Moshe Schuster, the retired main character, has been asked to speak on the radio about the experiences he had fifty-five years earlier in the Warsaw orphanage run by the famous physician, educationalist and author, Dr Korczak. This request, together with an old song which bears the name of his childhood love, sets off a flood of memories.
This is the start of part two, the story of Moshe and Reizele, two thirteen-year-old orphans who meet on the eve of World War Two. Gradually love blossoms between them, a love which is to be disrupted by the violence of the Nazis, who roll into Poland in 1939. The atmosphere in the orphanage is harsh, but Dr Korczak’s educationalist wizardry is able to bring out sensitivity even in a seasoned street kid. Moshe reveals himself as a stubborn adolescent with a cynical perspective on his surroundings. Yiddish-speaking orthodox Jews in stupid black robes just annoy him. But no matter how tough and cynical Moshe can be when his survival is at stake, once it comes to Reizele he is gentle and uncertain.
When the residents of the orphanage are transferred to the ghetto, Moshe realises what awaits them. He says goodbye to Reizele, flees and becomes a messenger for the anti-Nazi resistance. This leads to a number of exciting and moving scenes, such as when Moshe is afraid that he will be exposed as being circumcised or when, to his disgust, he is forced to eat pork. The story revolves around his search for Mordechai Gebirtig, the writer of the love song whose music he wants to give Reizele. Once he has finally succeeded and the two have confessed their love in a poignantly beautiful scene, the story returns to Tel Aviv in 1995.
Overwhelmed by these memories, Moshe decides to put aside his initial hesitation and go to the radio studio after all. There he is met with a surprise which gives the story an unexpected happy ending. Stoffels’ novel is evocative, striking and fast paced, the writing alternates rhythmically between being heart-rending and harrowing, the contrast reinforcing both. Mosje en Reizele is definitely the year’s best Dutch debut.