Analysis of Jurek Becker’s Novel Jacob the Liar


Analysisof Jurek Becker’s Novel Jacob the Liar

Analysisof Jurek Becker’s Novel Jacob the LiarName

JurekBecker, the East German Jewish author who wrote the novel, Jacob theLiar, was born in Poland in the year 1937. He spent most of hischildhood in Lodz Ghetto and later in Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausenconcentration camps. Jurek Becker published the book in the year1969. According to the German publisher, the original title of thebook was Jack der Lugner (Gross, 2013). Jacob the Liar was JurekBecker`s bestseller novel, after the publication of the book, theauthor was awarded the Heinrich-Mann Prize in 1971 and the same year,he received the Charles Veillon Prize. The story was narrated intotwo films, Jacob the Liar (1975) by Frank Beyer and Jacob the Liar(1999) by the Hollywood production starring Robin William. MelvinKornfeld first translated Jacob the Liar into English in 1975 butwithout Becker`s input. Leila Vennewitz and Becker later did a newEnglish translation in 1990, which was published in 1996 thus winningthe Helen and Kurt Wolff translator`s prize. The book talks about atrue story about Becker and his father who both heard about anotherJew, who was in the Lodz Ghetto who had lied about having a radio.

TheAnalysis and Style used

Jacobthe Liar took place in the Lodz Ghetto in 1944. Returning from workone night, Jacob Heym got caught by one of the guards who tell Jacobhe was out past the 8.00 O`clock curfew and to report to the militaryoffice for punishment. As he was walking through the corridor of themilitary building, he overheard a radio, which was forbidden for theJews in the Ghetto. Nevertheless, Jacob could not resist the urge ofstopping and listening to the newscast. Jacob overheard that the RedArmy is approximately 300 miles away from a town called Bezanika anddrawing closer. The next day Jacob shared this news with a man theyworked together with and lied that he heard the message from a radiohe had hidden in the house. Jacob news spread to the entire Ghetto,and since they now believed he had a radio, they pestered him formore news, and he had to keep on lying to maintain the first lie.

Anunknown narrator who meets with Jacob, after all, the events of thenovel has narrated Jacob`s story. The narrator has carefullyestablished his good faith by informing the reader that he trackeddown the witnesses. Jacob`s purpose for the initial lie was to givehope, which according to him could not be allowed to fade away orrather the Jews in the Ghetto could not survive. The narrator dwellson the morality of Jacob`s actions throughout the novel, and it isnot clear on how he/she felt about the work of Jacob. The narratorhas managed to describe the event of the story in a detached mannerimplying that he was just an observer with certain knowledgelimitation. Indeed, the narrator describes the scenes and tells thestory of life in the ghetto with humor, pathos, understanding andirony (Gunji et al., 2010). Without possession of graphic descriptionof Nazi atrocities in the novel, the narrator successfully made thefeeling of hopelessness, vulnerability and cruelty most of the Jewswere subjected to by the Nazis as a very beneficial aspect for thereader.

Althoughthe narrator plays almost no part in the events of the story, hispresence is still widely felt like the primary pulling effect. He isforty-six years old, drinks heavily, and is obsessed with trees. Hisfirst wife was in fact shot underneath one, but he now has agirlfriend, Elvira. In the ghetto, he had worked with Jacob, withoutbeing a close acquaintance. At the end of the novel, as they move outof an extermination camp, Jacob tells him the story of radio wherethe narrator survives to tell the tale. In contrast to Jacob Heym,the narrator insists on the general accuracy of this story, evidencedwhen he revisited the ghetto to take some measurement and later triedto establish the fate of a Jewish Doctor when he visited the agingSouth African man. The narrator, however, invents an entirely falseending, when he describes how the Jews were herded into the railwaytruck for transport to the camps. As Jacob Heym tries to gatherinformation about his fellow Jews, he dies heroically from answeredshots by the artillery of the Russians, who reached the ghetto andcurrently liberate the place at that moment. The historical figureplays a very significant role than Thomas Mann`s ‘RaonenderBeshworer does imperfect. He is an integral part of the storytelling.

Withthe narrator`s cultural background, his obsession with trees is,therefore, more significant. A tree is an image of hope, lack of treesignifies a lack of faith, which is the context of the ghettoinvolving passive acquiescence in extermination. The German attemptsto destroy the ghettos tree just by cutting them down was doomed tofailure, and by implication, the similar attempt to destroy hope isdoomed. The story of Jacob Heym involved the fortune renewal of suchhope and its chance fulfillment in the survival of the narrator.Jacob`s part within such in symbolic dimension is underlined when thenarrator associates him directly with trees. Thus, we may summarizethe particular contribution of the narrator in the Becker`s novel,Jacob the Liar as a narrative of the destruction of a ghetto as partof the attempted destruction of race and culture this one has beennarrated using the narrative techniques, vocabulary and symbolismassociated with that race. Narrating such as a story in such manneris like a declaration that the attempt to destroy the culture hasfailed. In a circumstance like that, the narrator justifies thatJacob is lying. The function that generates hope under these extremeconditions is warranted and wanting.

Theposition and the role of the narrator in Jacob, the Liar, is verycrucial. However, his importance or significance has frequently beenmisunderstood. The narrator has managed to paint the clear picture ofthe story, he gives story into details making the reader reallyunderstand what was happening. The author as the first-person,thereby employing the present tense, has used the narrator. Theaudience has been offered a look into both external and internalthoughts and the actions of Jacob and at the same time providing theinner workings of other characters as well.


Gross,S. (2013). Matters of reading, shapes of writing: Material form andsocial practice.&nbspGermanStudies Review,&nbsp36(1),147-161.

Gunji,Y., Niizato, T., Murakami, H., &amp Tani, I. (2010). Typ-ken (anamalgam of type and token) drives infosphere.&nbspKnowledge,Technology, &amp Policy,&nbsp23(1-2),227-251.