“The Most Precious of Cargoes: A Novel” by Jean-Claude Grumberg— A Woodcutter and His Wife

Grumberg, Jean-Claude. “The Most Precious of Cargoes: A Tale”, Harper Via, 2020.

A Woodcutter and His Wife

Amos Lassen

Jean-Claude Grumberg’s “The Most Precious of Cargoes” is set during the height of World War II and is the powerful story about a woodcutter and his wife, who finds a mysterious parcel thrown from a passing train. The woodcutter is very poor and as war rages around him and his wife, he finds it difficult to put food on the table. Nonetheless, every night, his wife prays for a child.

A Jewish father rides on a train holding his twin babies. His wife  can no longer provide enough milk to feed both children. In hopes of saving them both, he wraps his daughter in a shawl and throws her into the forest.

While searching for food, the woodcutter’s wife finds a bundle, a baby girl wrapped in a shawl. Although she knows harboring this baby could bring death to her door, she takes the child home. This is a story about family and redemption which reminds us that humanity can be found in the most inhumane of places. It is. Beautifully written novelette about what it means to love a child and how to sustain it.

There has been so much written about the Holocaust that it is very difficult to write something new to write about about yet writer Grumberg, through the use of a fable format, manages to do so. He deals with the horrors of the time at the same time he explores the love of a child.He also avoids any use of the word “Holocaust” but we are aware of its hovering above every sentence. The story is both heartbreaking and life-affirming and cements the importance of humanity above all else. What we read is out of the realm of our imaginations, or is it? There were certainly actual happenings like this that took place when desperation ruled. While we may not want to believe that a father would toss his child from a moving train, we can understand why he did so and we are pained by it. Likewise, we find joy when the child is found and rescued.

Here is a story of good and evil and light and darkness in which we recognize the great risk to the woodcutters wife and her husband when she decides to raise the baby as her own. The reader is left to think about the ending and with that I will stop except to say that this story is very different from anything that I’ve ever read. I attribute that to the lyrical prose. We are reminded that love and loss and pain and hope are emotions that are always within us.


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