67 pages 2 hours read

Anne Berest

The Postcard

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Postcard, or La Carte Postale, by Anne Myriam Berest is a 2023 historical fiction novel. Originally published in French, the novel follows Lélia Picabia’s search for answers surrounding a mysterious postcard bearing the names of her ancestors, who were murdered at Auschwitz. Although this work is based on true events, the author fictionalizes the history by adding the characters’ real-time personalities and emotions. The novel explores the themes of Inherited Trauma, Lack of Safety, and Survivor’s Guilt, as well as antisemitism, war, and Jewish identity.

The Postcard won the American Choix Goncourt Prize, the ELLE Readers Prize, and the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens.

This guide refers to the translated edition by Tina Cover, published by Europa Editions Press, 2023.

Content Warning: The source material and this guide discuss graphic violence, torture and death, and violent sexual assault. The source material also uses derogatory, antisemitic language, and explores drug use, lethal drug use, and suicide.

Plot Summary

Book 1 of The Postcard opens on Lélia explaining her family’s history to her adult daughter Anne, who is pregnant. Anne is the novel’s author and protagonist. The book blends fiction, history, and memoir with sources omitted and blanks in the narrative filled in with speculation and inference.

Lélia’s story begins with her great grandparents in Russia, during the 1919 purge of Jewish people. Nachman Rabinovitch and his wife, Esther, flee to Palestine, begging their adult children to leave Russia as well. Nachman, a deeply religious man, shares the news of their departure at Passover. Against Nachman’s urging, the children flee to Europe, where there is hope of prosperity. Nachman claims that one day, they will want all the Jewish people out of Europe, too.

The majority of Book 1 focuses on Nachman’s son Ephraïm, his wife, Emma, and their children: Myriam, Noémie, and Jacques. Myriam is Lélia’s mother and Anne’s grandmother.

Ephraïm Rabinovitch’s family struggles in Riga after escaping Russia, ultimately finding and losing wealth before moving to Palestine to help Nachman with his orange grove. They are destitute after five years, and Ephraïm is jealous of his siblings, who found success in Europe. He takes his family to France, seeking citizenship and a life of luxury, nobility, and acceptance.

As Hitler comes to power and Jewish safety deteriorates in Europe, the family maintains the hope that they will be accepted as French citizens. This proves false, as the family is rounded up and sent to Germany’s concentration camps. Throughout the spiraling collapse of French society, Ephraïm believes that his assimilation and compliance will lead to their salvation. Only Lélia’s mother, Myriam, survives the Holocaust.

Book 2 opens six years after the birth of Anne’s daughter Clara, who tells Lélia that her school does not like Jewish people. This spurs something in Anne, who becomes obsessed with the solving the mystery of a postcard that her mother received in 2003 bearing the name of the Rabinovitch family members killed in the Holocaust. The stamp is upside down, and the handwriting looks falsified. She sets out to solve the mystery, facing obstacles as she grapples with her own ignorance of Judaism and navigates a budding relationship with a Jewish man named Georgie.

Book 3 is a single epistolary chapter in which Anne tells her sister Claire that they are the reincarnations of Myriam and her murdered sister Noémie, a burden that is too heavy to bear. Claire agrees, recognizing the weight of their relatives on her shoulders and their multigenerational trauma as they try to find their own identities without neglecting, or being crushed by, the past.

Book 4 follows Myriam, the sole surviving Rabinovitch, as she hides in rural France through most of the war, returning to Paris to have her baby, Lélia, before the war’s end. Her husband dies of a drug overdose shortly after. When her family does not return from German concentration camps with the other survivors, Myriam goes to Germany, acting as a military translator as she searches. After two years, she returns and marries her husband’s friend, has two more children, and settles in a small French town.

The novel concludes with Anne’s search for the postcard in Myriam’s hometown. At the end of her life, Myriam had Alzheimer’s disease. Myriam mailed the postcard to Lélia’s house so that she would not forget her siblings and her parents. Myriam’s caretaker mailed the postcard long after Myriam’s death.

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