Bryna Kranzler has masterfully pulled together the notes and journal entries of her forbear, Yakov (Jacob) Marateck, and turned them into a warm, enchanting, readable Jewish saga, with all the richness of pre-Bolshevik color and Polish-ethnic splendor. To dive into The Accidental Anarchist, at 334 pages, is to lunge into a whole different world and time that draws one into the spirit of the times and the mind of Yakov. Yet, the reader, whether a Goy (Gentile) like myself, an adult or a teen, is not left behind by incomprehensible words and phrases. The unobtrusive footnotes and italicized Yiddish/Polish/Russian words are lightly peppered throughout in such a way as to keep the stream of the story flowing, while bringing the reader along.
The Accidental Anarchist unfolds in two major episodes. The first follows Yakov from Polish Vishogrod into the ill-fated Russo-Japanese war in Manchuria as a Russian soldier. The valiant exploits of the younger Yakov are often riveting and so alive one can, at times, almost feel the chill of the bitter cold and the concussions as the artillery shells explode with deadly effect. The lust for life and the depth of friendship fills each page, driving the story from one frosty, muddy, bloody scene to the next. The desire to cheer swells up as Yakov finds his brother Avrohom at the front, and later finds his lost friend, Glasnik.
The second, and larger, portion of The Accidental Anarchist follows Yakov back home, to Vishogrod, then to Warsaw. There Yakov pursues some clandestine exploits in his youthful idealism that brings him into the Czar’s judicial and penal system. The reader watches as Yakov finds himself face-to-face with another death sentence, and the unlikely turn of events that gets him sent, rather, to a Siberian prison camp. On the way to what he thought was his execution, he is able to hand a hastily scrawled note to an unknown girl. This action will resurface much later and bring the book to its delightful conclusion, for the girl is the author’s grandmother. But from this point of the story to its conclusion, Yakov travels, under guard, toward Siberia, becoming friends with “The King of Thieves,” Pyavka. Together they struggle to survive the deprivations, the escape, and the trek commenced to Warsaw, their sometimes strained friendship carrying them through more adventures.
The Accidental Anarchist is a book that is full of odd valor, peculiarly rich ethnic scenes and a most improbable nobility. Not only is survival through the most dubious situations a large theme in the book, but the vibrancy of genuine friendship radiates beautifully. There is also the thick and deep texture of family, and the humorous tradition of the matchmaker.
As one takes up The Accidental Anarchist, they will be launching out into an adventure that will stick for years to come. Kranzler has been faithful to her forbears in retelling Yakov Maratek‘s story, but she has also handed the reading public a wonderful account of life, faith, and friendship. I highly recommend The Accidental Anarchist.
(Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Reader Views)