Tells [a] story — which turns out to be multiple stories, obscured by the fog of war and rumor’s sfumato — and virtuosically relates them to Schulz’s own tales, while providing the clearest, most evenhanded account to date of the tangled afterlife of the Master of Drohobych ... An unflaggingly curious and fastidious critic, the Jerusalem-based Balint has forged a career out of examining cases like this one ... In that book as in this one, Balint excels at distinguishing the possible ownership of artifacts from the impossible ownership of legacies, and demonstrates with sensitivity how in the clash between so-called intellectual property rights and so-called moral rights, the only sure loser is the artist himself, especially if he is no longer around to defend (or define) himself.
He runs through the facts of Schulz’s childhood and artistic life, but he devotes the majority of the book to Schulz’s life under the Nazi occupation ... The author narrates in detail the discovery, removal and eventual public display of the murals. Balint uses the events to probe questions of cultural and ethnic ownership ... Balint’s reportage on the murals scandal is both briskly written and thorough; his ill-advised flights of pseudo-Schulzian prose are less successful. Yet this new book frequently feels like a missed opportunity. Schulz still does not have his own full-dress biography originally written in English, something he has surely earned. But Balint is more interested in the great writer’s enslavement and the aftermath of his death than in the vast majority of his life.
Balint does a fine job of capturing Schulz’s life and his world before the war, his deeply peculiar mind and the fascinating figures in whose orbit he moved ... At times he veers into unhelpful psychologising ... Ultimately, however, Balint has more than just Schulz’s life and works in view, and his book begins and ends with the events from which Schulz’s contemporary reputation has become inseparable.
First, Balint moves backward into the past, exploring Schulz’s life and work in Drohobych before World War II, and his experience during the Holocaust. Then Balint circles back to tell the story of the rediscovered murals and their immediate 'hijacking' ... Schulz’s writing can be seen as a triumph of assimilation. Balint argues that Jewishness was never an important part of his identity ... Yet this interpretation of Schulz’s work clearly misses something.
Compelling ... As engaging and provocative as Balint’s exploration of Schulz’s posthumous legacy often is, the most valuable part of his book may be its first half ... Balint wisely fashions a concise and eloquent critical biography of the man leading up to his murder.
Balint vividly, insightfully, and affectingly casts light on long-shadowed Schulz and his startlingly original work, composing a freshly enlightening, harrowing, and invaluable chapter in the perpetual history of genocide and the courage and transcendence of artists.