The Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude; they came up and encamped at Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. When the Israelites saw that they were in distress (for the troops were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns. Some Hebrews crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.1 Samuel 13:5-7 NSRV
A large part of LAMENT takes place during the Second World War in a Ukrainian Jewish ghetto that existed not too far from some current fighting. Then as now, for non-combatants, warfare repeats Biblical times, ancient laws. Those who can’t fight have to leave, get out of the way, or else go to ground. As verified reports of more civilian deaths in basement hiding places keep coming from Ukraine, I’ve adopted a suggestion from my sister in the news industry that I should excerpt and share one of the novel’s toughest stretches. Though humbled by the enormities of reality, I’m proud to act in the interest of anyone seeking historical and imaginative insight into current events.
To set the scene: Hitler’s German army, in retreat from east to west since the loss at Stalingrad, is about to reach that part of Ukraine where the heroine, Musya, is being held captive at a small country town. Along with four children between the ages of two and ten or so, she lives in a wing of a former Jewish traders’ inn called Krutonog’s. Hardships including sexual violence and the humiliations of forced labor have sent her into a permanent daydream state in which she enjoys the attentions and rivalries of several interesting imaginary suitors, including doctor in the ghetto and a Polish aristocrat living nearby. Events—with a big assist from heroic can-do lesbian couple Elkie and Eidel—will help bring her mind back around to reality.