The Accidental Anarchist
Crosswalk Press, 2010
I am usually not drawn to nonfiction in the same way I am drawn to fiction. This is partially because biographies and memoirs fail to communicate human character in the same way that well-written fiction can. To me, they often seem dry and lifeless, like a report of events rather than a slice of life.
This week I finished reading The Accidental Anarchist by Bryna Kranzler. Compiled from the journals of Jacob Marateck, Kranzler's grandfather, this book recounts Marateck's life as a Russian Jew during the Russo-Japanese war. My interest in the book was piqued largely because I had recently finished reading Delin Colon's compelling work Rasputin and the Jews. If you read one, by the way, I highly recommend reading the other. Together they fill out an intriguing cultural and political picture of the era.
I found myself so fascinated by The Accidental Anarchist that I thought about it at work, wondered what would happen during dinner, and picked it up each night before bed. Several nights I went to sleep much later than I had intended because I was simply unaware how much time was passing. One reason for this is that Kranzler does a remarkable job of turning a life into a narrative. The reader knows what drives Marateck and wants to know whether or not he achieves his goal.
The story centers around his three death sentences and his desire for marriage. Marateck endures things most of us can only imagine, and many things we literally couldn't imagine. His remarkable character enables him to survive while so many others around him don't. Living in such a volatile time and place, Marateck endures and embraces extraordinary events with a desire for taking risks and living a life that matters. Many of his near-death experiences are due to the inhumane treatment of the Jews at the time, but many are also due to his inability to sit still and let life pass him by. From a forced labor camp to the homes of the wealthy, from bayonet charges in the Manchurian wilderness to a dangerous trek in search of a synagogue for Yom Kippur, from joining the Polish underground to finding the girl who saved his life, Marateck's faith and resourcefulness enable him to survive.
One of the things that struck me most about the book was Kranzler's ability to show the reader Marateck's humanity. She writes his voice with such consistency that I was barely aware that it wasn't Marateck himself writing the story. Kranzler pulls together the pieces of his life into a strong central narrative that keeps the reader engrossed. Her writing is infused with Marateck's dry humor and understated compassion for others, while his character is clearly communicated not only through what he does but also through how he thinks. Ultimately, Kranzler has developed the stories of his life into a true human personality.
Kranzler's writing as a whole, in fact, is strong throughout the story. She maintains a consistent voice, compelling sentence structures, and smooth transitions from idea to idea and event to event. Peppered throughout the pages is subtle and helpful historical information that enables the reader to understand a different culture and a different era. Kranzler clearly treated her writing as an art form and uses it to bring to life the story of her grandfather in a compelling and engrossing story.
So much did I enjoy this book, so much did it prompt me to think, that it is now one of my favorites. I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Accidental Anarchist. The book is entertaining, thought-provoking, and unique. You'll find it well worth reading.
Winner of The USA "Best Books of 2011" Award
in the Biography:Historical category
Finalist, ForeWord Review's 2011 Book of the Year: Biography
Honorable Mention, Biography/Autobiography, London Book Festival 2011