In 1937, Poland is about to catch fire. In the boxing ring, Jakub Szapiro commands respect, revered as a hero by the Jewish community. Outside, he instills fear as he muscles through Warsaw as an enforcer for a powerful crime lord.
Almost everything about The King of Warsaw is gripping: the range of characters, the rich descriptions, and the plot twists, including one big stunner ... However, this book is not for readers with weak stomachs. It goes into vivid detail about myriad kinds of punching, shooting, stabbing, dismemberment, prisoner abuse, and rough sex ... should be required reading for the right-wing Poles today who still insist that their countrymen were never fascists or anti-Semites and that everything was the Germans’ fault.
... arresting ... The book’s ingenuity stems from the way it uses point of view. We float like a butterfly around our central story ... There’s a cool indifference to the tone, yet a hot, rapid pace propels the narrative. You’d be tripping over your feet trying to keep up with these criminals ... But arguably what’s most impressive about The King of Warsaw is the architecture of the words on the page ... Twardoch is a deft writer. On this insecure foundation he lays a whole world. The reader goes along, despite all warning. Then Twardoch, somehow, collapses everything, leaving us to come to in a different story altogether, as though we’ve been struck a blow. To be too specific about this would be likely to ruin the effect, but see for yourself. It’s an impressive sleight of hand ... There are metaphors to be scratched at, layers to be uncovered. Even as it stares into the abyss, it seems to me that this text is getting at something beyond bleak nothingness ... Either way – whatever way you want to read it – read it. The King of Warsaw is a fine and accomplished work that ought to be read widely and thoughtfully.
... dense but powerful ... Twardoch spins the convention of the unreliable narrator in multiple directions: not only may the narrator be deceiving the reader, he may also be deceiving himself. All of this storytelling legerdemain adds complexity and fascinating psychological texture to the book, which at its heart is a gripping tale of a Godfather-like power struggle between warring mobs, one largely Jewish, the other anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist.The Tarrantino-caliber violence can be overwhelming but is never gratuitous in a novel that is fundamentally about a country and its people on the verge of decimation.