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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Dr. Josef's Little Beauty
Book cover for Dr. Josef's Little Beauty

A Holocaust story as fascinating and compelling as it is terrifying and puzzling — a book about aging and war crimes, pain, and pride.

In the middle of summer, omnipresent heat radiates as a group of elderly people are remembering their youth. The story focuses on two twin sisters, Leokadia and Helena, who live together in a retirement home not far from Warsaw. These are not ordinary stories they are sharing, because both of them spent time as children in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. At the center is Helena, who at the age of 12 was saved from extermination by the notorious doctor Josef Mengele, the real-life Nazi officer and physician who was known as the “angel of death” for the experiments he conducted on prisoners, including twins and siblings.

This is a story both provocative and disturbing about the fear that lingers in victims. Was the sisters’ relationship with the executioner a desperate attempt to save their lives, or perhaps they harbor a hideous pride and sense of superiority over other prisoners? Rudzka’s extraordinary writing turns unsettling questions about memory and survival into art.

Book cover for Dr. Josef's Little Beauty
Book cover for Dr. Josef's Little Beauty

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“This a book that repels you, it’s as stifling as a hot, steamy summer—and it’s set in one—when you wait hopelessly for rain. But there’s no putting it back on the shelf or hiding it under a pile of newspapers. It has great force.”

“Zyta Rudzka confronts us with a truth that we don’t want to hear too often, and which is only trite on the surface—being immortal doesn’t exist. Even if digital immortality is already peeping around the corner.”

Antonia Lloyd-Jones

ANTONIA LLOYD-JONES has translated works by many of Poland’s leading contemporary novelists and reportage authors, as well as crime fiction, poetry, and children’s books. Her translation of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by 2018 Nobel Prize laureate Olga Tokarczuk was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International prize. For ten years she was a mentor for the Emerging Translator Mentorship Programme, and is a former co-chair of the UK Translators Association.

Zyta Rudzka

ZYTA RUDZKA (born 1964) is a masterful writer, whose terse and forceful style is rapidly gaining her a place among Poland’s best contemporary novelists. Her first novel, Dr. Josef’s Little Beauty, was revised and reissued in 2021 as one of a trilogy of novels that explore old age and the final stage of life. Despite shared themes, each book stands on its own and has other central themes as well. Rudzka’s other two novels are A Brief Exchange of Fire (2018, winner of the Gdynia Literary Award, shortlisted for the Nike Literary Award) and Soft Tissues (2020, winner of the City of Warsaw Literary Award). Her latest novel, Only Those with Teeth Can Smile, moves away from the old-age theme, but is just as hard-hitting as its predecessors, and is nominated for the 2023 Nike Literary Award, Poland's top literary prize. Her novels are now appearing in foreign translations. Dr. Josef’s Little Beauty is her first to appear in English translation. Rudzka is also an award-winning playwright and poet. In 2022 she won the Poznań Literary Award for her entire oeuvre to date.