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The Accidental Anarchist

Written by Bryna Kranzler

Book Review by Dennis Moore

Bryna Kranzler, a graduate of Yale University with an M.B.A. from the School of Organization and Management, and Barnard College, where she studied playwriting, has written a captivating true story of an ordinary man who became extraordinary by participating in the history-making events of the early 1900s in Russia and Poland, The Accidental Anarchist. Her book is based on the diaries of Jacob Marateck, the grandfather that she never met, and translated by Shimon and Anita Marateck Wincelberg, her parents.

Kranzler states early on in this poignant and provocative book that Jacob Marateck's story is proof that it is not the circumstances of our lives that determine who we are, but rather the way we choose to interpret them that defines our personalities and, to some extent, our destinies.

The Accidental Anarchist is an intriguing story, of a Jew who was conscripted into the notoriously anti-Semitic Russian army, who led soldiers during the Russo-Japanese War that wanted to kill him as much as the enemy did. By the time he was 25 years old, Jacob Marateck had been sentenced to death three times - and yet lived to tell about it. Maratek's Journeys encompassed more than 12,000 miles, on the way to the army; on the way to the war; on the way home from the war; on the way to Siberia; escape from Siberia; searching for a wife.

Not content to merely survive the war, Marateck joined the incompetent Polish underground intent on overthrowing Czar Nicholas II. He was sent to a Siberian forced labor camp, from which he escaped, along with Warsaw's colorful "King of Thieves." Together, the unlikely pair struggled to travel nearly 3,000 miles home, without food, money or official papers.

One of the most poignant moments for me in the book, is when Jacob Marateck conspires with an admitted thief and convict to escape from prison. The fact that the Cossack's anger at Marateck for something he had earlier done, made their subsequent escape doubly difficult. This is the type of intrigue that is filtered throughout the telling of "The Accidental Anarchist," adding a type of twisted allure to the story. Kranzler, with the translation of her grandfather's diary by her mother and father, gives a vivid portrayal of a time in history that resonates with us all. Marateck states, after his escape from prison: "After seven months and sixteen different prisons, way stations and transit camps, I was finally free." Kranzler even includes a Biblical reference in her grandfather's escape, that of "Lot's wife," in the destruction of "Sodom and Gomorrah." Earlier on, one convict being marched in chains along a road by Cossacks, with Marateck and other convicts, and unable to resist the same fatal curiosity as Lot's wife, turned to see which of the guards was traveling on foot instead of on horseback. For this, he got a bullet in the back, and was left unburied by the side of the road.

More that just about Jacob Marateck, equally poignant is the story within the story, of the descendants of Marateck travel to America and arriving at Ellis Island. A fascinating story!

Elie Wiesel has this to say about this riveting book; "The Accidental Anarchist is a profound testament to the power of faith, and to the continued survival of the Jewish people." I would like to echo those sentiments, and highly recommend this book.