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Chasing the King of Hearts

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  458 ratings  ·  68 reviews
An extraordinary love story, spanning 60 years, from 1939 to 2000, from the Warsaw Ghetto to Israel.

'This is the last leg of my journey. It would be silly to lose my mind now. 'After the deportation of her husband to Auschwitz, Izolda Regenberg, alias Maria Pawlicka, has only one aim: to free her husband. Her race to beat fate might appear absurd to others, but not to her.
Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 2013 by Peirene Press (first published January 2006)
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3.94  · 
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 ·  458 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Angela M
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I continue to read Holocaust stories no matter how gut wrenching, how gruesome, how heartbreaking, no matter how the Holocaust defies what as we as human beings desire to hold sacred, the sanctity of every life. With every one of these stories, whether fiction or true accounts, my feelings on the importance of never forgetting just get stronger. While this story is all of that, it is told in a different way from other books I have read. It's told in almost a matter of fact way that even though s
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the fictionalised true story of Izolda Regensberg and her WW2 experiences which include escaping from the Warsaw Ghetto via the sewers, impersonating an Aryan woman during which she is persecuted by doubts that Jews have a distinctive way of performing virtually every commonplace gesture and being deported to a variety of camps, including Auschwitz. The king of hearts of the title is her young husband Shayek. The laconic, almost breezy tone of this novel, written in the present tense in ...more
Diane S ☔
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Izolda and her husband along with their families live in the Warsaw ghetto. When her husband is taken and sent to Auschwitz, she will do anything to free him, help him survive. Along the way she tries to save her family and friends but her main focus is her husband. Her King of hearts, and what she does along Tue way to accomplish this is nothing short of staggering.

Told in a series of vignettes, reading very matter of fact and in an, unemotional voice voiced, this is a novel of fear and despera
Roger Brunyate
Not for Hollywood

  Izolda and Shayek

This is a true story. Had it been fiction, it would never have made it past the publisher's readers, on grounds of credibility. For, in trying to save her husband in the Holocaust, Izolda Regensberg manages to pass in and out of the Warsaw ghetto, move between Poland, Germany, and Austria, get captured herself and sent to three or four different camps or prisons—including Auschwitz, twice—but somehow escape, doing what has to be done to survive herself and sen
Gumble's Yard
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
She lays out the cards and sees everything: man with blond hair, in love, in other words the king of hearts. See he’s already out of the door. Terenia studies the picture card and suddenly her voice becomes gleeful: your king has a trip ahead of him, what are you worried about. Sher’s right, there he is second row, first card on the right – the king of hearts. Next to him is the six of hears, which means a triup. Of course those three spades are a bad sign, Terenia explains, but even that’s not
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Chasing The King Of Hearts" certainly deepened my understanding of the struggle for survival and also my compassion for those who will do almost anything to keep themselves and their beloved alive. I have long understood that desperate times call for desperate measures. And I have witnessed desperation itself leading to acts of reckless abandon and even loss of reason. But this novella brought these points home in new, forceful ways.

"And she prefers her new self to the real thing. So what does
A short novel about the experience of a Polish Jewish woman during the Second World War, based on a true story. What makes this different from much "Holocaust literature" is how much of an adventure it turns into; it often reads like the trials and tribulations of a Resistance heroine, except that Izolda's cause is not her entire country, simply her friends and relatives, in particular her new husband - first to get them out of the Warsaw ghetto, and then trying to get him out of a concentration ...more
Friederike Knabe
Dec 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ce-europe
A fast-paced story of dramatic survival through smarts, cleverness, courage and luck on the one hand and the pain and suffering and many losses on the other. Review to follow.
Apr 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Alan by: Sibyl
Shelves: novels
Elegant, involving, heartrending. Krall tells a true story of a woman from the Warsaw ghetto whose husband gets sent to Auschwitz, and her efforts to communicate with/rescue him. She changes her name, hair colour, and religion in order to escape the ghetto (via the sewers at one point), but finds that there is so much that gives her away: a Jewish way of holding and putting down a handbag; pretending to be Catholic she is asked to repeat the 'Hail Mary..' but says it too slowly - real Catholics ...more
Thoughts coming shortly
Marina Sofia
Oct 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very moving, despite its quite matter-of-fact, understated style (or perhaps precisely because of it).
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Lovely read - yes, just when you think you cannot possibly want to read yet another Holocaust novel, this novella comes along. Glad I read it.
Alison Hardtmann
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-book
Chasing the King of Hearts tells the story of Izolda, who meets Shayek in Warsaw during WWII and marries him. They live first in the ghetto until Izolda, who is unrelentingly resourceful and determined, smuggles herself out. She manages to get Shayek out too, as well as their parents but the war is harsh and unrelenting and over time their family members disappear or are arrested. Shayek is eventually arrested and all of Izolda's ingenuity is focused on getting to him. She endures much and survi ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts is not your usual Peirene fare in the sense that it’s a little too long to be classed as a novella (it certainly took me far longer than two hours to read it), but I’m not sure that really matters. The book is a tribute to one woman’s amazing ability to survive everything that World War Two throws at her, including the execution of various family members, life in the Warsaw Ghetto, several stints in jail, torture by a cruel Gestapo officer (was there any ...more
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
4/5 stars

It’s difficult to review Holocaust fiction because the content and plot can often be so harrowing that it defies the imagination. For this reason, it often comes down to the author’s craft and ability to evoke the unimaginable rather than any particular narrative arc. Like Affinity Konar’s Mischling, this book offers a similar poetic surrealism, asking readers to fill in the blanks as events unfold in understated simplicity. Unlike the former, Chasing the King of Hearts is much clearer
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
People need to know more about Hanna Krall. A journalist in Poland during Communism, a survivor of the Holocaust, an unflinching chronicler of ordinary lives, it's a shame more of her work isn't translated or known in America. We need more voices like this at a time when honest reporting is being shamed into submission.

*** spoilers below***
My one hesitation to recommend comes only to warn that the publisher says this is an beautiful love story. It seems to me that it is an ordinary love story,
Simon Duffy
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: holocaust
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 05, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Inside the Warsaw ghetto, Izolda is in love with Jurec, but by chance meets Shayyek who is to become the love of her life. Her mission is to survive but above all to survive in order to save Shayek, the King of Hearts. Her mission is constantly being obstructed by chance and circumstance, of being in the right place or the wrong place and no amount of disguise (changing her name, dying her hair, assuming a Polish identity) will save her from Auschwitz. But she does survive. The chance encounters ...more
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So many gruesome things happen in this fictionalized true story of a holocaust survivor, but it is told in such a matter of fact way, in a breezy every day tone that you are left feeling both comforted and jarred.

"The doctor watches her work, I see you have not grown indifferent, he says. You know why that is? Because you haven't seen death. She doesn't contradict him, doesn't look up from her bandages. (The doctor is old, he spent both wars in military hospitals, but she feels more mature. Perh
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am so very glad I read this book. This book based on a woman’s experience as told to the author is a powerful Holocaust novel. It is the story of one woman’s journey to keep her husband alive (she understands he is Auschwitz). The story is told simply and compellingly of the choices she makes (what choices would I make?). The unfolding of the story (not wanting to give a lot away) is moving, interesting, surprising and a gift. It really made me think about the stories I know and the stories I ...more
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an incredible little book. It is based on a true story, and I would love to know more about the real events. There are also a few photographs dotted throughout that relate to the story, so I would love to know more about them too (there aren't any captions or anything). The writing is very matter of fact and so sometimes it's easy to gloss over something without realising, and then you go back and read it again and realise what it really says. The style makes it sometimes seem a bit drea ...more
Angela Young
Dec 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a hard book to read because of what it tells. In its spare stark prose it tells of terrible terrible things. In short sentences, short sections ... indeed it is a short book ... it holds whole worlds, whole awful worlds, within its 168 pages. But it should be read just as Schindler's Ark should be read, just as any holocaust literature should be read.

Here, for instance, is one, no four, whole words in one short sentence:
She should have told her husband to take them one at a time: first
Angela Woodward
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The riveting story of a Jewish woman's many escapes, and then not escapes, in World War II Poland. Izolda's story was originally an as-told-to memoir, which Krall later rewrote in her own style, an extremely spare telling that highlights moments of emotion and danger and leaves much else as a white blank. It's explicitly a tale of survival, wit and wile. Only in the aftermath, when the family is established in some kind of normal bourgeois life, does the sadness begin to creep in. I unexpectedly ...more
Sep 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A holocaust story, with a difference

Hanna Krall writes a story about a woman who has a single focus during the holocaust--to save her husband. She takes many risks to achieve this goal, and incredibly, she survives! And so does he! This not being a fairytale, they don't live happily ever after. A deeply moving story about the holocaust, it's aftermath, and the role that chance played in who survived, who didn't, and what the psychological effects of trying to survive and having survived were.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
In documentary fable style Hannah Krall relays the true story of Izolda Regensburg’s survival of the Holocaust. This amazing account of strength is written with so much levity that Izolda comes across as an undauntable hero of her own life ceaselessly pursuing the whereabouts of her husband Shayek instead of spending even one moment in self-pity. How she survived is relayed in astonishing vignettes of her fantastic ability to trade bread for hosiery, a tooth for information and her indomit
3.5/4 - A poignant WWII Holocaust story of how one woman survives while in quest of her husband who was taken to a camp. It's about identity and about an extraordinary individual ordeal within the collective experience. The prose is elegant and subtle, without excessive details but enough to convey the fear, the stupor and the resilience of the victims.
Read the full review on my blog, Scrabbled Rambles.
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book. This is a terrible book. Terrible, because in a simple, matter-of-fact language it adds horryfing dimensions to what you know or think you know of the holocaust. All of a sudden your theoretical knowledge becomes very real as you understand the terror of seeing (e.g.) a loved one go to her death and hoping she doesn't see you, since the slightest sign of recognition would mean your death as well.
It's the matter-of-factness which makes the story so shattering.
Carole Landry
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This translation of the Polish work tells of the love and bond that gave Izolda the courage and daring to survive the halocaust, including Auschwitz concentration camp, to reunite with her husband. But marriage isn’t easy either.
Sep 13, 2016 rated it liked it
This book didn't work for me. The structure of the book was fragmented and confusing. There was also no emotion from the main character. Although, I feel this was deliberate because of what she went through. I guess you have to stop feeling anything if you have to survive such horrors.
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Peirene books are described as "two hour books to be devoured in a single sitting". This book was one woman's story of the Holocaust, and how she survived. Beautifully written, with sharp dialogue and very engaging.
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Around the Year i...: Chasing The King of Hearts, by Hanna Krall 1 8 Oct 19, 2018 03:21AM  

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Urodziła się w Warszawie w rodzinie żydowskiej. Podczas II wojny światowej zginęło wielu członków jej najbliższej rodziny. Wojnę przeżyła tylko dlatego, że była ukrywana przed Niemcami. Cudem została ocalona w czasie transportu do getta. Holocaust i losy Żydów polskich z czasem stały się głównym tematem jej twórczości.

Od 1955 r. pracowała w redakcji "Życia Warszawy", od 1966 r. w "Polityce", które