The Man from the Other Side (Ha-Ish Min Ha-Tsad Ha-Aher)
THE MAN FROM THE OTHER SIDE (Ha-Ish min ha-tsad ha-aher)
Children's Novel by Uri Orlev, 1988
In this story of 14-year-old Marek, told in the first person voice with great immediacy and persuasive power, we learn of the adventures of a boy who is torn between revulsion and admiration for his stepfather, Antony, who smuggles food through the sewers to the Warsaw ghetto. Marek's ambivalence about his stepfather becomes more intense as he becomes Antony's assistant and observes Antony's skill at smuggling both food and escaping Jews but also his ruthlessness in eliminating someone who threatens to reveal their illegal activity.
Marek has absorbed anti-Semitic attitudes from the Polish society he is part of, but he discovers that he cannot despise or exploit Jews without a sense of guilt. His mother has taught him tolerance. Because the plight of the Jews in wartime Warsaw is seen from the perspective of a Catholic boy who is initially neutral about what is happening in the ghetto, his growing sympathy for the Jews is particularly convincing. What is more, he discovers that his father was a Jewish Communist who was tortured and killed by the Nazis. In a young Jew named Pan Jozek, Marek finds a surrogate image of his father, and Marek's efforts to hide and save Jozek culminate in his risking his life to fight at Jozek's side in the Uprising. And, after Jozek is killed, Marek honors his friend by seeing to his honorable burial, despite extreme danger.
Orlev introduces the story with a preface titled "A Word About My Friend Marek," in which Orlev tells of his friendship with a Polish newspaperman named Marek, who, after sharing memories of Nazi-occupied Poland and touring the north of Israel with the author, told him the story of his life in Warsaw as a boy. The reality of continuing anti-Semitism in Poland becomes clear when Orlev tells Marek that he wants to write the story of Marek's boyhood but Marek is alarmed because "nobody [in Poland] knows my background … that's still a very sensitive subject there." Orlev promises not to tell his story as long as Marek is alive. Soon after, Marek is killed in an airplane crash, and Orlev is free to tell Marek's story. This introduction, which might have worked better as an afterword, suggests that Orlev is fictionalizing based partly on autobiography but also on his convincing novelistic imagination.
Particularly striking in this novel is the completely persuasive presence of Marek himself, a boy whose family situation many contemporary readers can identify with. His widowed mother has remarried, and Marek dislikes his stepfather, who seems coarse and crude to him. Nevertheless, Marek needs a father figure, and ironically through his discovery of his dead Jewish father and through his friendship with Jozek, who resembles his lost father in some ways, Marek travels a distance toward acceptance and reconciliation with Antony. He comes to admire Antony's courage and, most importantly, learns that Antony loves and cares for him, which changes his attitude toward Antony. Antony is an interesting character because he is such a mixture of good and bad. At the same time, Marek learns complicated lessons about Jews and Christians, decides to fight for the Jews in the uprising, and wrestles with his own complicated identity, though the introduction makes clear that he never publicly acknowledges his Jewish roots.
The Man from the Other Side (1991; Ha-Ish min ha-tsad haaher, 1988) is a gripping psychological novel for older children and young adult readers that also conveys a great deal of realistic historical information about the Nazi occupation of Poland and the relations between Jews and Christians in Poland during World War II. Orlev honors the heroism of those who fought against the Nazis. He also conveys the complicated political situation in wartime Poland with a minimum of didacticism or editorial commentary. Orlev is well served in the American editions of the book by the excellent translation by Hillel Halkin.