BookBrowse Reviews The Fighter by Jean-Jacques Greif

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Fighter

by Jean-Jacques Greif

The Fighter by Jean-Jacques Greif
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Sep 2006, 288 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book



Based on the memoir of his family friend, Jean-Jacques Greif has taken the facts and turned them into a gripping novel about life and death in Auschwitz. Teens & Adults

From the book jacket: Moshe Wisniak grew up malnourished and fatherless outside Warsaw at a time when Jews and Poles lived in poverty and violence. When Moshe's brothers emigrate to Paris in the 1930s, it means a new life for the whole family, who follow soon after. A decent job, a lovely young wife, and a hobby as an amateur boxer vastly improve Moshe’s prospects until the day he is rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. There he is tortured, starved, and most shockingly, asked to entertain Nazi soldiers by boxing against dying prisoners.

Moshe wants to survive without killing his comrades, but how? Based on the memoir of his family friend, Jean-Jacques Greif has taken the facts and turned them into a gripping novel about life and death in Auschwitz.

Comment:  Jean-Jacques Greif's first novel to be translated into English is a powerful tale of survival of the fittest in one of the most merciless environments ever dreamed up by humanity.  It is based on the life of Maurice Garbarz, a Polish-Jew who was a friend of Greif's father. Greif's father, also a Polish-Jew and camp survivor, died in 1999 at the age of 94 but Maurice was still alive as of May 2006.   Moshe/Maurice tells of a life where guards kill without a thought, merely for the sport of it, squashing prisoners as if they are no better than flies; beating them without mercy just for the fun of it, and pitting them against each other as if they're fighting dogs, while meanwhile working them, quite literally, to death.

Earlier this year, The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas (a story about a German boy who befriends a boy within Auschwitz) got a lot of press attention. The Fighter is an entirely different type of book - it's a tough, raw, graphic read that has more in common with Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel than the somewhat disingenuous The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas (click here for BookBrowse's review of The Boy, which includes background about Auschwitz).

One reviewer takes offence to some of the gruesome details asking "must we know what it was really like to sift through the piles of corpses, and see eyes that have jumped out of their sockets?"  In response to her, I would answer, yes, we must, because to whitewash reality is to hide from it, and we owe it to those who have died, or are dying in similar atrocities today, to at least face up to the realities, even if only in print.

Greif says that he does not write for a particular age group, but The Fighter has proved popular in France (where it was first released) as a book to accompany the study of World War II during the first year of High School.  Apparently, it hits the mark with young people as in 2000, shortly after it was released in France, it won the five main literary prizes given by students that year!

Many of Greif's books are set in times of war, but he says they are not about war per se but about people facing moral dilemmas - which tend to become more cut and dried during times of war.

"If you want to know about the French Revolution, there are many books of history that give you an account. If you want to know how people behaved in these best and worst of times, you can read A Tale of two Cities. The author’s talent is such that you’ll become one of the characters and go through the Revolution yourself. That’s the power of the novel.  So what is added in my book, I hope, is that you’ll go to Auschwitz yourself—as opposed to what happens if you read the definitive book about the Holocaust, Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews."

About Jean-Jacques Greif
French journalist and writer, Jean-Jacques Greif was born in Paris in 1944, six months after his father was deported to a concentration camp.  His parents were both from Eastern Galicia, a province which was then part of Poland but is now located in the Ukraine.  His father emigrated in 1925, his mother in 1938.

As a journalist he has worked for more than thirty years for Marie Claire magazine.  He first published work was a documentary book for children about computers (1986); for much of the following years he wrote how-to books about  the Macintosh computer and its software (at least 20 in French, and 7 in English - he is fluent in both and translated The Fighter himself).  His first novel for teens was published in 1996; about 16 more books, for both teens and adults, have been published since. His subjects include Beethoven; Mozart; Einstein; Joan of Arc; Marilyn Monroe; and various unknown heroes, such as his father and mother, both former members of the French Résistance.  His mother "vanished" for six months into a secret Gestapo jail. His father was denounced and spent about a year in Auschwitz. 

"When I was two or three, I hid under the kitchen table while my father and his friend Pierrot compared Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The last time I saw both of them together, Pierrot in his eighties and my father past ninety, they still compared Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Before I had heard about Snow White and Cinderella, I knew that mothers promised their babies a good shower after three days in the cattle car and that poisoned gas rained down instead of water." - Jean-Jacques Greif.

This review is from the December 6, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Goodbye Days
    Goodbye Days
    by Jeff Zentner
    Guilt can be a heavy burden for anyone to manage, but it's especially difficult for teenagers. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    by Hannah Tinti
    Hannah Tinti follows her spectacular 2008 debut, The Good Thief, with a novel of uncommon ...
  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -