Twilight is my favorite time of day, l'heure bleu, the French call it, that mysterious hour between the dying sunlight of afternoon and the falling night which blots out all but the stars and the cool glow of the moon. It is as though night is holding itself back, waiting for something to happen before it dares to release the cloaking darkness. It is the witching hour, when anything can happen. In the spring and summer the twilight hours are when the fragrance of blooming flowers is at its most intense, in the fall it is the dusty scent of fallen leaves, and in the winter it is the smell of cold air and someone's slowly cooking dinner as you walk homewards in the waning light. When winter days are gray from morning to noon to night the twilight comes so gradually it almost seems not to exist.
I stumbled upon The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman in the bookstore yesterday, drawn to it by the fuschia spine of the paperback, the unpronouncable name of its author (Andzrej Szczypiorski. Say that three times fast). The opening paragraph begins in twilight, my favorite time of day, in a room that was in twilight because the judge was a lover of twilight. He didn't like it when his usually unfinished and hazy thoughts fell into the trap of light. Everything on earth is dark and unclear, and the judge loved to plumb the depths of the world. It is the years of the war, and the judge is selling a painting of a faun seated on a cask of wine, to the tailor Kujawski, who has on him more money that the old judge might see in one year; once he was the patron, the benefactor, and now he is the one who has come down in the world by the ravages of war.
I was a small child when I stumbled upon the literature of the second World War. There are so many stories of the genocide brought about by Hitler and his followers, written to teach small children that people can do terrible things to each other and that people can survive through the greatest of all obstacles. They are an army of ghosts, a silent army that acts their lives before us on an invisible stage, living a history that becomes alive in a way that dry textbooks and chalk-wielding teachers never can. We turn to historical literature to give history a human face, emotions that touch something in our minds and hearts.
Some years into the war, the beautiful Mrs. Seidenman is turned over to the Nazis by a Jewish informer. Widowed since before the war, she had hoped to live invisibly, continuing with the work that her late husband had left behind, and to survive her city's occupation. Yet she still had the conviction that she would one day be exposed and meet the fate of all the other Jews who were vanishing from the streets of Warsaw. And so she is discovered, and captured, and the threads of all the intersecting lives in this story come together - the judge, the tailor Kujawski, Pawalek, who works for Kujawski and has loved Irma Seidenman from afar since he was a child, and her neighbor Dr. Korda, who cannot imagine that this slender, blonde, blue-eyed beauty is a Jew. Together all these connected people begin to work to free her, and perhaps she will be the key to their own survival.
Szczypiorski, Andrzej. The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman. Vintage, 1991. p 3.