"Enthralling ... A great read."—Philippe de Montebello, former director, Metropolitan Museum of Art
October 16, 1943, inside the Vatican as darkness descends upon Rome. Having been alerted to the Nazi plan to round up the city’s Jewish population the next day, Monsignor F. dispatches an envoy to a nearby palazzo to bring Ludwig Pollak and his family to safety within the papal premises. But Pollak shows himself in no hurry to leave his home and accept the eleventh-hour offer of refuge. Pollak’s visitor is obliged to take a seat and listen as he recounts his life story: how he studied archaeology in Prague, his passion for Italy and Goethe, how he became a renowned antiquities dealer and advisor to great collectors like J. P. Morgan and the Austro-Hungarian emperor after his own Jewishness barred him from an academic career, and finally his spectacular discovery of the missing arm from the majestic ancient sculpture of Laocoön and his sons. Torn between hearing Pollak’s spellbinding tale and the urgent mission to save the archaeologist from certain annihilation, the Vatican’s anxious messenger presses him to make haste and depart. This stunning novel illuminates the chasm between civilization and barbarism by spotlighting a now little-known figure devoted to knowledge and the power of artistic creation.
"In Hans von Trotha's haunting novel Pollak's Arm ... beautifully translated into English by Elisabeth Lauffer, the setting is Nazi-occupied Rome on October 16, 1943, the Saturday when the Gestapo rounded up the city's Jews—the day when the barbarians came knocking door to door ... We hear spellbinding tales."
—The New York Review of Books
"Quietly powerful, closely written ... A lament for a lost world ... This work has the appearance of a chamber piece ... but ends up as something infinitely grander. It is also a book in which the tension builds and builds, not only an absorbing and deeply moving read, but, to put it crassly, a page-turner. I finished it in one sitting."
—The New Criterion
"At a moment when war has once again come to Europe and the relationship between culture and conflict is headline news, Pollak's Arm is a timely reminder that art is no defense against brutality, that civilization is a thin skein easily shredded once tanks and troops start enforcing their rough rule ... A love letter to art."
—The New York Sun
"Nazi forces bear down on a Jewish scholar in Rome in Hans von Trotha’s erudite novel ... Tense yet enthralling."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Deeply satisfying ... Rich ... In slack cultural times, we need astringent art to give us moral strength, and this little tale seems to offer precisely that."
—The Times Literary Supplement
"The novel resembles a one-act play ... capturing a life enriched by its commitment to art and antiquities and a man who makes an unusual decision when faced with a crucial choice. A work that weaves art and history into a fascinating tale."
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Possible to read in one sitting but, once read, impossible to stop thinking about … Pollak’s Arm is a quiet and surprising masterpiece set during World War II, certain to make readers think deeply about history, philosophy and art."
—Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)
"Pollak’s Arm is a poignant ode to storytelling, bearing witness to historical memory from the Trojan War to World War II ... marvelous enough as a short story. Yet von Trotha masterfully weaves it into a much larger saga linking to an ancient Greek myth and a sculpture. It becomes a Haggadah in the sense of a Jewish Passover story to tell your children over and over."
—On the Seawall
"Hans von Trotha has told a beautiful, complex story in Pollak’s Arm. In writing about it, the temptation is to keep quoting and quoting. There is so much in it; it’s crammed with precious treasures."
"Gripping narrative ... extraordinarily persuasive ... Pollak's Arm displays keen psychological insights and a profound understanding of artistic sensibilities. Elisabeth Lauffer's luminous translation from the German is richly resourceful. This slender book is utterly captivating and highly recommended."
—Jewish Book Council
"This intense and exciting book brings back to life the voice of Ludwig Pollak who, when confronted with Nazi-occupied Rome's grim reality, powerfully conveys a taste for collecting, the pleasure of erudition, and an unshakeable faith in culture. This period of European history—remarkably captured here by Hans von Trotha—still has much to tell us."
—Salvatore Settis, chairman of the Louvre Museum Scientific Council and author of Laocoön and If Venice Dies
"Hans von Trotha has composed a small jewel of a novel. Set as the Holocaust reaches Rome in October 1943, it quietly evokes an archaeologist's reflections on a European life of scholarship and art. The result is physical death for him and his family. Yet this book offers vivid testimony of his words and actions in defense of humane culture against barbarism."
—R. J. B. Bosworth, author of Mussolini and The Oxford Handbook of Fascism
"This enthralling novel describes an undying passion for antiquity with an underlying theme of great poignancy. A great read."
—Philippe de Montebello, former director, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Powerful ... Belongs in the category of literary works that obsessively reflect on a work of visual art, like Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters: A Comedy. Any summary of the richness of the dialogue ... would be an understatement."
—Reading in Translation
"Pollak's Arm is a thought-provoking, though intense, reading experience. Much like a particularly striking work of art, it will leave an imprint on you long after the close of its final pages."
—The Canadian Jewish News
"A book every traveler to Rome should put in their luggage."
"Exciting and extremely moving."
"Something special, that is, above all, something that will stimulate your thoughts ... The book is a treasure trove for those interested in art history ... With an intensely packed narrative, the very substantial novel deserves to be read twice."