Foreword Reviews

The Teacher

When a teacher takes her life, an unnamed narrator proves determined to ensure that her story is not lost to memory. Driven more by psychology than its plot, The Teacher is a chronology-jumping character study about the individual experience of a collective trauma.

The departed teacher, Elsa, is her moment, psychologically embodying the conflict of the Kastner train, which ferried 1,600 Jewish passengers to safety in 1944, and the later trial of its organizer. This portrait of her is a thoughtful meditation on the human struggles that are not often considered in history books or political moments.

The novel shines in its last third, which witnesses the internal war that leads Elsa to suicide. This depth and intensity comes on suddenly, an earth-quaking shift from the steady removal of the preceding chapters. It is not until Elsa begins her psychological struggle that she becomes a magnetic figure. As Kastner sits trial in the public sphere for organizing the escape with Adolf Eichmann, Elsa puts herself on the stand. It’s a complex, nuanced, and deeply moving progression.

Introspection pervades every page. The tone is alternately poignant and soporific—sometimes, even downright confusing. Long expositions of childhood memories are disconnected from what comes before and after, and the narrator, who’s introduced in brief at the opening but is then almost forgotten until the book’s end, is underutilized. The book ends in a crescendo, though, and there is poetry enough to propel audiences to the soul-stirring climax.

At the intriguing intersection of history with humanity lies Michal Ben-Naftali’s The Teacher, a powerful peek into the psychology of trauma and a great book club pick for those seeking a challenging, deep discussion.

Reviewed by Jessie Horness

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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