Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Train to Warsaw

A Novel

by Gwen Edelman

“With remarkable economy and finesse . . . unsentimentally and vividly, Edelman re-creates the chaos, the din, and the brutality as everything was stolen from Warsaw’s Jews in the winter of 1940.” —Washington Post Book World

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 208
  • Publication Date April 14, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2384-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

Jascha and Lilka flee separately from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. Years later they are reunited in London, where Jascha has become a celebrated writer, feted for his dark tales about his wartime adventures. One day, forty years after the war, Jascha receives a letter inviting him to give a reading in Warsaw. He tells Lilka that nothing remains of the city they knew, but Lilka, nostalgic for the city of her childhood, prevails. Together, traveling by train through a frozen December landscape, they return to an unrecognizable Warsaw. When they unwittingly find themselves back in what was once the ghetto, they will discover that there are still secrets between them.

A riveting story of the nature of desire and the cost of survival, The Train to Warsaw is a haunting and unforgettable portrait of a man and a woman who cannot escape their past.

Tags Historical


“Every exile dreams of the return home. Edelman’s intimate tale lets us eavesdrop on a couple’s return to Warsaw, traversing decades of conflict, betrayal, and secrecy—in war as in marriage. Love, it turns out may be the only country one ever has hopes of returning home to.” —André Aciman, author of Out of Egypt: A Memoir

“Gwen Edelman’s spare, intimate narrative belies the sweeping devastation of what’s beneath: the alternating rage and despair of survival; and a desperate love that spans a lifetime. Edelman lays bare the tragedies of 1940s Warsaw in a series of dreamlike images all the more haunting because they’re drawn from history. I could not put it down. This is a fearless, achingly important work of fiction.” —Jamie Quatro, author of I Want To Show You More

“In polished prose of distilled intensity . . . Edelman has written a well-crafted study of exile and return.” —Publishers Weekly

“[The Train to Warsaw] unspools in telegraphic paragraphs signifying a journey both physical and spiritual for the two protagonists. . . .Edelman skillfully reveals the characters’ deepest misgivings and regrets, as both realize they will never be at home in this world, except—and only sporadically—with each other.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The spare and intimate language in Train to Warsaw is deceptively simple. It creatively disguises a compelling tale told by two lovers, whose stunning, sometimes shocking dialogue ultimately becomes an exploration of the enduring wounds of the Holocaust, the mystery of memory, and the irresolvable traumas of lived experience . . . deftly woven into a sensual and haunting narrative, crisscrossing more than four decades of despair and secrecy, exposing the multiple tragedies of 1940s Warsaw.” —Haaretz

“With remarkable economy and finesse . . . unsentimentally and vividly, Edelman recreates the chaos, the din and the brutality as everything was stolen from Warsaw’s Jews in the winter of 1940.” —Washington Post Book World

“Edelman’s message is redemptive, her novel a moving hymn to the miracle of survival.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An irresistible story told by two lovers. Ardent, fierce, shocking, and unforgettable. Gwen Edelman weaves the unthinkable into her gorgeous, tantalizing web.” —Mary-Beth Hughes, author of Wavemaker II and Double Happiness

“In this lyrical exploration of memory, there is more urgent sensuality and haunting desire than anything I’ve read in a long time. The Train to Warsaw kept me reading late into the night—saddened, aroused, angry and grateful.” —Joanna Hershon, author most recently of A Dual Inheritance

“Gwen Edelman’s writing is so deceptively simple, so quietly poetic, that the torrents of emotion catches one by surprise and sweeps one away. The dialogue is stunningly real and the characters fully alive in this tender, unflinching tale of love that survives the unresolved—the irresolvable—traumas of life.” —Michael Lavignei, author of The Wanting and Not Me

The Train to Warsaw is a stunning novel exploring the enduring wounds of the Holocaust, but it is also a deeply truthful meditation on how we can never fully know each other, even after several decades of marriage. Jascha and Lilka’s search for a Warsaw that has disappeared is utterly compelling and affecting while Gwen Edelman’s sharp, spare prose equals Cynthia Ozick at her best and most resonant.” —Allison Amend, author of A Nearly Perfect Copy

Reading Group Guide

1) The Train to Warsaw is, among other things, a book about exile. Discuss your thoughts on exile. What mindsets have Jascha and Lilka developed to cope with feelings of exile? Are they the same mechanisms or different? How effective are they? What does it mean to be in exile from the world you once knew?

2) The Train to Warsaw is also a book about memory. How do Jascha and Lilka’s memories of the ghetto affect and determine their current reality? Discuss the ways in which memory is central to the novel.

3) What do you think is the meaning of the secrets they have kept from each other all these years? Why have they remained secrets? “There are no free miracles,” says Jascha (p. 106). Discuss how this observation relates to the arrival of Lilka’s grandfather from Lodz and to the secrets that are revealed throughout the novel.

4) How is Jascha and Lilka’s relationship affected by the past? Is it a shared past, or did each experience it differently?

5) Jascha and Lilka seem to eat and drink and talk about food continuously. Why do you think that is so? What do food and drink mean to them? What do they symbolize?

6) Jascha and Lilka have a strong romantic and erotic relationship. How does it echo or mirror their experiences? Identify the various elements of their relationship. What relationship does it have with the war?

7) In the novel there are characters with very different degrees of “Jewishness.” Jascha, Lilka, Lilka’s mother, her father, her grandfather. Discuss the various levels of adherence (or not) to Jewish observance and how it affects their view of life.

8) Even after forty years, Jascha does not feel at home in London. At the casino, he says: “This is where I feel at home . . . Here there is no time or space, no day or night. All your problems disappear and only the numbers exist” (p. 32). Discuss this destruction of a sense of home as survivors of the Holocaust might experience it.

9) Jascha compares the experience of gambling to the experience of wartime: “From one second to the next, your fortunes change” (p. 33). Discuss the relationship in Jascha’s life between gambling and wartime and what they have in common.

10) Lilka often has vivid dreams and nightmares. Discuss these, and what effect they have on her waking life.

11) The Garden of Eden is often invoked in this novel. Discuss the instances when Jascha and Lilka refer to the Garden of Eden and the various meanings to them of the Garden. How does Jewish displacement further exemplify the myth of Eden? Lilka equates the city beyond the ghetto walls with “a paradise” (p. 139). Consider other similarities between the Holocaust and the expulsion from Eden.

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Ghetto Diary by Janusz Korczak; Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter by Kazik; The Holocaust Kingdom by Alexander Donat; Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto by Emmanuel Ringelblum; Mila 18 by Leon Uris; Warsaw 1944 by Alexandra Richie