In 1871 Salomon Meijer, the Swiss cattle dealer, lives happily with his wife Golda, his daughter Mimi (Miryam) and Hannele, the orphan he adopted about twenty years ago and who is neither a daughter not a servant to the family.

Then one evening, after they have finished sitting shivah for Uncle Melnitz, a young army deserter and distant relative, Janki, knocks on the Meijers door. At that point, the reader feels that this unexpected arrival will change the family’s uneventful life in an irremediable way. From then on, we watch the generations mix and multiply until 1945.

One original aspect of this novel is that it is not set in Germany but in Switzerland. Nonetheless, in the end, Salomon’s offspring hardly fare better than the other European Jews of the era.

Originaly written in German, Melnitz by Charles Lewinsky is a highly readable saga. It took its author four years to write it and his original aim was to tell the Swiss about the Jewish neighbours they never really knew. Little did he guess that it would reach the top of the Swiss bestseller list and then be translated in a number of other European languages.