Mirjam Pressler (1950-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1950, in Darmstadt, Germany; Education: Attended Akademie für Bilden de Künste, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
office—c/o Verlag Beltz und Gelberg, Werderstrasse 10, D 69469 Weinheim, Germany.
Novelist, translator, and author of children's books. Worked various jobs in Munich, Germany; worked on an Israeli kibbutz.
Oldenburger Jugendpreis, 1980, for Bitterschokolade; Zürich Kinderbuchpreis, for Stolperschritte; Deuschen Jugendliteraturpreis, 1994, for translation; Deutschen Jugendliteraturpreis, 1994, for body of work; Zürich Kinderbuchpreis, 1995, for Wenn das Glück kommt, muß man ihm einen Stuhl hinstellen.
Novemberkatzen (for children), Beltz & Gelberg (Weinheim, Germany), 1982.
Ich sehne mich so!: die Lebensgeschichte der Anne Frank, Beltz & Gelbert (Weinheim, Germany), 1992, translated by Anthea Bell as The Story of Anne Frank, foreword by Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Macmillan (London, England), 1999, translation published as Anne Frank: A Hidden Life, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Joal und Nickel in der Schule, illustrated by Maria Wissman, Loewe (Bindlach, Germany), 1994.
Leselöwen-Geburtstagsgeschichten (for children), Loewe (Bindlach, Germany), 1994.
Norma ist mal so, mal so, illustrated by Astrid Krömer, Alibaba (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1996.
Wenn das Glück kommt, muß man ihm einen Stuhl hinstellen (novel), Beltz & Gelberg (Weinheim, Germany), 1994, translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford as Halinka, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
Shylocks Tochter: Venedig im Jahre 1568 (novel), Alibaba (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1999, translated by Brian Murdoch as Shylock's Daughter, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Malka Mai, Beltz & Gelberg (Weinheim, Germany), 2001, translated by Brian Murdoch as Malka, Picador (London, England), 2002, Philomel (New York, NY), 2003.
Die schönsten Erstlesegeschichten, Fischer-Taschenbuch (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 2002.
FICTION; FOR ADULTS
Mit 64 stirbt man night (crime novel), Fischer-Taschenbuch (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1986.
Kratzer im Lack (novel), Beltz & Gelbert (Weinheim, Germany), 1992.
Kopfunter, Kopfüber, 1999.
Also author of Auch Vampire können sich irren, Ben und Lena gehen einkaufen, Ben und Lena im Kindergarten, Geschichten von Jessi, Goethe in der Kiste, Katharina und so weiter, Nickel Vogelpfeifer, Nun red doch endlich, Stolperschritte, and Die wundersame Reise des kleinen Kröerichs.
(With others) Vollkommen normal: Treffen Junger Autoren '90 (nonfiction), Anrich, 1991.
Bitterschokolade, Langenscheidt, 1994.
(With others) Unter der Steinhaut: Treffen Junger Autoren '93 (nonfiction), Anrich, 1994.
(Editor with Otto H. Frank) Anne Frank, Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank, translated by Susan Massotty as The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, translated by Susan Massotty, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
Translator of books, including works by Ida Voss, Nira Harel, and Patricia Polacco, from Hebrew, English, and other languages into German.
German writer Mirjam Pressler is the author of several novels that have won awards in her native Germany and also received high praise from critics after being translated into English. In Malka and Halinka Pressler focuses on young Jewish protagonists who have been forced by fate to endure the Holocaust, while in Shylock's Daughter she returns readers to fifteenth-century Italy as she attempts to answer haunting questions surrounding the motivations of characters in a popular play by William Shakespeare. While receiving notice for her novels, Pressler is most well known for her work revising the diaries of Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank, and she is considered an expert on Franks's life and writings. In addition to translating Frank's famous diary from Dutch into German, Pressler has edited The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition and has also authored Anne Frank: A Hidden Life for younger readers. Winner of the 1994 German Youth Literature Prize for her work, Pressler divides her time between homes in Bavaria and Israel.
First published in Germany in 1994, Halinka takes readers back to Europe in the years following the end of World War II, in this case, to Germany in 1952. Twelve-year-old Halinka has been placed in an institutional home for neglected and troubled girls to keep her from her abusive mother. However, here she has to deal with a different kind of survival, as she not only attempts to mask her Jewish heritage by claiming to be a Gypsy, but also copes by refusing to even think about the more positive future that might be hers if her aunt is able to win custody of her. As readers follow Halinka through a week in her life, they share her determination to win a contest to benefit a local charity, feel her frustration over the taunting of a class bully, and root for her as she seeks a quiet space in an empty luggage storeroom and takes a personal and emotional risk by helping Renata, a younger friend, in a world where the girls usually find safety in isolation. Praising Pressler's novel, Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman noted that readers will "recognize the universal experience of the displaced child and her search for home," while a Publishers Weekly contributor noted the "complexity" of the novel's protagonist. "The optimistic note at the conclusion rises sturdily from Pressler's careful foundation," the Publishers Weekly critic added, "giving readers not a feel-good ending but something solid to feel good about." In Horn Book a reviewer also cited the sensitive interpretation made by translator Elizabeth D. Crawford, noting: "Halinka joins the ranks of treasured works in translation … that we celebrate for their contribution to the diversity of our literature, but read because they're just so good."
Based on a true story, Pressler's 2001 novel Malka takes place in Poland during World War II. In the fall of 1943 the Germans arrive, and soon Jews in Dr. Hannah Mai's village are being rounded up and disappearing. Aware of the danger to her family, Dr. Mai attempts to lead her two daughters—seven-year-old Malka and her older sister Minna—across the Hungarian border to safety. However, the family's trek is arduous, and bad weather and inadequate clothing slow down their progress. Soon Malka becomes sick, and her mother is forced to leave the child with strangers who promise to care for the child until it is safe to send her onward. However, Malka's journey is far from over: the German family sends Malka out on her own to save themselves from the harsh reprisals meted out to those who harbor Jews. On her own, the child finds shelter in dark alleys, doorways, and an abandoned coal cellar. Meanwhile, her mother, miles away in Hungary, is torn with guilt over her decision to leave her young daughter behind. She returns to search for her and miraculously the two are reunited after being apart for half a year.
In telling her story, Pressler drew on the faint memories of the actual Malka Mai, a resident of Israel, but much of the emotional resonance comes from the character of Hannah, whose guilt is so devastating that, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "readers will not emerge from this novel unscathed." "The alternating perspectives of the abandoned child and the mother who made an unbearable choice" make Malka a "thought-provoking addition" to the growing body of Holocaust survival literature, added School Library Journal contributor Kathleen Isaacs in praise of the book. Noting that the novel "never romanticizes either the victims or the rescuers," Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman concluded that Pressler's "history is accurate, and the survival adventure will hold readers to the very last page."
In an interesting change of pace, Pressler focuses on the characters of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in her 1999 novel Shylock's Daughter. Her focus is the motive of the Jewish moneylender Shylock to demand a pound of Antonio's flesh, a request that Pressler illuminates by bringing to light the anti-Semitism and other cultural characteristics of sixteenth-century Venetian society. In her novel Shylock's somewhat spoiled daughter Jessica lives a comfortable life in the city's Jewish ghetto, but she longs to break away to the main city with its glamorous fashion, revelry, and high culture. A love affair with Lorenzo, a handsome member of the aristocracy seems to offer her the chance she has been seeking, but marriage to Lorenzo will only be granted if she is willing to convert to Christianity.
While noting that Pressler's novel does not totally clarify the problematic actions of Shylock, who resolutely insists upon his pound of flesh, and Jessica, who heartlessly betrays her father, the "detailed historical background and the fresh examination of the characters" prompted a Publishers Weekly contributor to label Shylock's Daughter an impressive effort. "Pressler looks beyond Shakespeare's words and comes up with a revelatory story," maintained Ilene Cooper in a review of Shylock's Daughter for Booklist, "one in which the players take the opportunity to display more of their strengths and expose more of their foibles." Praising the writing style as "sharp and observant," Cooper added: "It is not often that a YA author can make adult characters as intrinsically interesting as young people, but here … Pressler succeeds."
The story of Dutch teenager Anne Frank is well known throughout the world, and the diary penned by Anne while spending two years in hiding from the Nazis during World War II is perhaps the most widely read of any book written during the twentieth century. The August 1944 capture and ultimate death of Frank and most of her family in a Nazi extermination camp only months later provides a tragic aftermath to the compelling story of a young teen's coming of age as recounted in Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, first edited and published by her father, Otto Frank, in 1947. After Otto Frank's death in 1980, Anne's original diary was re-translated by Pressler, who reorganized the two versions of the work—Anne actually started to rewrite her diary because she became aware of its possible use as a historic document—and added back some portions of the work that Anne's father had removed. "The Anne we meet here is much more sarcastic, rebellious and vulnerable than the sensitive diarist beloved by millions," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, reviewing Pressler's The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. In the revised version, tensions run high among the eight people hiding in the Secret Annex—the top floor of an Amsterdam warehouse—for over two years, and Anne's frustration with her situation, her resentment of her mother and her older sister, and her budding sexuality all figure prominently in her diary entries. In Pressler's revision Anne's focus on her Jewishness is also expanded; her father, an assimilated Jew, had edited out his daughter's references to her religious faith because, as Rebecca Steinitz noted in the Women's Review of Books, "he chose to emphasize what he saw as its universal message about the evils of war and discrimination."
In addition to editing the actual diary, Pressler has also authored a biography of Frank. Titled Anne Frank: A Hidden Life in English translation and published in England as The Story of Anne Frank, the book is intended to be read as an accompaniment to The Diary of a Young Girl. Setting the stage by asking readers to imagine how Anne's father, Otto Frank, must have felt after losing his family, surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp, and then discovering that his daughter's diary had survived, Pressler then recounts the history of the actual diary, from writing to publication, as well as the personal story of the young teen who wrote it, at the same time "delivering fresh and provocative insights" into Frank's life, according to a Publishers Weekly critic. Dealing with Anne's teenage angst, her troubled relationship with her mother, and her desire for romance, Pressler narrates Anne's story in what Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman described as "direct, highly readable commentary" that is "authoritative, honest, and thoughtful." Her "sincere, levelheaded, and unabashedly personal text relies closely on Anne's own words," added a Horn Book reviewer, noting that, "with balance and poignancy, Anne Frank: A Hidden Life succeeds in conveying both the individuality of the most famous Holocaust victim and the enormity of the tragedy that consumed her."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Halinka, p. 413; April 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Anne Frank: A Hidden Life, p. 1537; April 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Shylock's Daughter, p. 1484; April 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Malka, p. 1390.
Christian Science Monitor, March 15, 1995, Merle Rubin, review of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 14.
Horn Book, January, 1999, review of Halinka, p. 70; May, 2000, review of Anne Frank: A Hidden Life, p. 337; May-June, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of Malka, p. 355.
Kliatt, May, 2003, Michele Winship, review of Malka, p. 13.
New Republic, December 4, 1995, Robert Alter, review of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 38.
New Statesman, April 2, 1999, Martyn Bedford, review of The Story of Anne Frank, p. 47.
New York Times Book Review, March 5, 1995, Patricia Hampl, review of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly, February 13, 1995, review of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 70; November 2, 1998, review of Halinka, p. 83; February 14, 2000, review of Anne Frank: A Hidden Life, and interview with Pressler, p. 201; May 15, 2000, review of Halinka, p. 119; June 25, 2001, review of Shylock's Daughter, p. 74; May 5, 2003, review of Malka, p. 222.
School Library Journal, January, 1999, Cheri Estes, review of Halinka, p. 130; May, 2003, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Malka, p. 160.
Spectator, February 1, 1997, Carole Angier, review of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 30.
Times Literary Supplement, May 23, 1997, Rosemary Dinnage, review of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 26; June 4, 1999, Adam Hochs-child, review of The Story of Anne Frank, p. 10.
Women's Review of Books, January, 1996, Rebecca Steinitz, review of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 12.
Goethe Web site, http://www.goethe.de/ (October 26, 2004), "Mirjam Pressler."*
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