Author: Alan Lelchuk'
Publisher: Madel Vilar Press
Alan Lelchuk's most recent novel, Searching for Wallenberg is a mixture of fact with fiction and a little humor thrown in for good measure. Lelchuk uses the voice of a Dartmouth College Professor, Manny Gellerman to narrate his meticulously researched 266-page novel that certainly commands our attention even though it may be a trifle improbable, nonetheless has a terrific narrative drive with a splendid gallery of characters.
And if you don't know who Wallenberg was or to refresh your memory, he was a Swedish architect, businessman, humanitarian who is widely known for having saved thousand of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust from German Nazis and Hungarian Fascists during the latter stages of the war. While serving as Sweden's special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory. In January of 1945 it was alleged that during the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army he was detained by the Soviets on suspicion that he was a spy and subsequently mysteriously disappeared. A later report indicated that he had died in 1947 while he was a prisoner in Lybianka, the KGB headquarters and affiliated prison in Moscow.
Lelchuk informs his readers in his introduction that he first began researching the life of Wallenberg while he was teaching in Budapest in 2001 where he began to ponder the many mysteries associated with him. When and how did he die in Lybianka? Did he live on in some Gulag camp or psychiatric hospital? Why did he supposedly languish in a Soviet prison from 1945 to 1947 without being exchanged by the Swedish government as was the case with other political prisoners in Europe or rescued by his well-connected and wealthy family? Why did he go to bat and sacrifice himself for the Jews? Above all, the deepest mystery to Lelchuk was in finding out the living man behind the legendary persona of this noble diplomat and hero of Budapest Jews. And as he states: “the basic questions of his personal identity and motivation compelled me as I studied the perplexing history.” On the other hand, why serve the cause of trying to find out the truth about the elusive Swede? What would he do with the information if he was successful in finding out what happened to Wallenberg.
The narrative unfolds when one of Gellerman's students, Angela Robinson has just returned from a fact finding trip to Budapest and informs Gellerman that she believes she has uncovered Hungarian members of Wallenberg's family who are still alive and kicking. It was during the gathering of material for her graduate student's thesis about the fate of Wallenberg when she met an eccentric fifty year old woman, Zsuzsanna Frank Wallenberg who claims to be Wallenberg's daughter and that her own daughter is his granddaughter. Subsequently, Gellerman receives an email from someone acting on behalf of Zsuzsanna inquiring about the legitimacy of Angela to which he assures the sender of the email that she is on the up-and-up. Moreover, he would like to hear from Zsuzanna little realizing that this would set in motion an incredulous journey that would ultimately lead to an ongoing mystery with a series of traps along the way involving an Hungarian woman's farfetched tale “worthy of an Isaac B. Singer story, filled with miraculous faith and fairytale myth,” as Gellerman describes it. He does admit that it may be speculative, and even fabricated and fanciful, but nonetheless it must be checked out, and that he does over the course of a year.
Abundantly clever, Lelchuk entertains his readers on a grand scale with much to ponder about. His writing is incredibly powerful and insightful as he constructs his narrative from the perspective of fiction rather than history as a result of the many spaces and gaps that exist pertain to this mysterious hero and thus enabling him to imagine would might have really happened in the past.