This is simply one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read. Like a lot of books, this book is a reminder that the whole world’s been a dystopia depending on who you are. Yakov Bok is a handyman in Kiev. He’s been not exactly passing as gentile to work in a specific neighborhood so much as allowing his unquestioned Jewishness to remain unquestioned. One day is picked up by the police and accused of murdering a local boy and draining his body of all his blood. Because he’s never officially charged with the crime and is only detained, he becomes homo sacer to the state. Already as a Jew his position is deeply fraught, but in his new state he is not even awarded basic civic rights of a legal defense and other rights. He’s completely innocent and knows he’s being framed, but in addition to those ideas, because of the caste system, he’s expected to maintain a level of civilness in order to not enrage his captors.
The book is set in the pogroms that just predate WWI and serve as a reminder of the violence of anti-Semitism, and how the history of it is centuries-long and not contained entirely within the scope of Nazi Germany. This is something that comes as an important reminder in the 21st century, especially in the US where there’s a concerted effort to encapsulate historical violence to specific times and places.