"Moran has an impressive ability to create characters who are at once morally troubling and sympathetic. Anja, in particular, is a nuanced figure. His examination of the fine distinctions between evil, weakness and desperation is stimulating and unflinching."
"Moran's subject is the souls, the approximate loves, of an informer, a murderer, and a terrorist: as tough a subject as anyone could choose. Since he is a truthful writer as well as an exact and fluent one, there will be no contrived justice for these three. In this new book, truth leads quite a different way."
-New York Times Book Review
"Brooding, driven...For surprises and complexity of character, turn to 'Anja the Liar'. This ia a dark, fascinating study of souls in torment.
"An illusion-free zone of fiction where people aren't basically good at heart. People are what terrible circumstances have left them: damaged in irrepairable ways. Thomas Moran, who writes as gracefully as almost anyone you could name, has created an astonishing body of work. The portrait Moran paints of Anja and Walter's marriage is so nuanced and stark that it could make a Bergman movie seem slapdash. 'Anja the Liar' is a profound book that could not be more relevant."
"Moran expertly delves into the psyches of his fragile charcters, leaving a haunting portrait of the aftermath of war."
"Wrenching...Although Moran consistently presents events, places, and responses vividly, he leaves his characters essentially inarticulate, a striking reminder that he is not about to sentimentalize the world he's depicting...A novelist who is not afraid to shove his readers off balance to stir them into reflection."
"Moran views desperate lives at close range...A searing tale."
ANJA THE LIAR
THE GIRL WAS PALE as a midwinter's moon gliding over the icy Tatra mountains. Her hair would be called blond, but each strand was translucent as cornsilk. At night, on the blacked-out streets of crumbling cities under seige, her face must have seemed luminous.
But against the brilliant flare of this summer sun, she was nearly invisible: an empty dress, walking.
That's how she appeared to the engineer Walter Fass when he first squinted through the wire of the Displaced Persons camp near Sauerlach, a sullen gray town marring the rich ripening fields of oats and barley, the orderly orchards of southern Bavaria.
The walking dress kept well clear of the wire, which edged a more modern scar on the land, from a cut perhaps two hundred meters long, a hundred wide, into pasture and a pine plantation. Some little distance down those barbed steel strands, though, Fass observed dozens of other women -lips pouty with black-market rouge, haired waved- pressing close as the wire allowed to a crowd of edgy, shuffling men in ill-fitting suits or mismatched pieces of one uniform or another. Like a Partisan formation, Fass thought. A stream of broken German mixed with American slang, a bit of Russian, random eddies of Czech, Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian flowed rapidly between them. He listened a bit to the currents of talk: a new European pidgin, and a marriage market conducted in it.
Walter Fass understood at once. Their homes destroyed or out of reach, those they'd loved no more than shades among the ruins now, the defeated soldiers outside the wire were seeking any human connection they might make. For the women in the camp, a harder loss: their very identities. Lacking passports, birth certificates, even simple residence cards, they were nameless, stateless, shunned and unwelcome anywhere -unless they were chosen by a man with papers. A man who possessed the right to be only because his photo, his name, his nationality appeared on a properly stamped and signed official document.
So this marriage market, daily at the wire: the matchmakers hope gone absent without leave, and the brutal surprise of surviving the war only to find the life you'd led had not.
Turning from that misery, Fass's sun-glazed eyes were drawn again to the walking dress: a flowing, flowered summer number that, he judged, would be inadequate when autumn came, in a matter of weeks. The girl would shiver, perhaps sicken. When she passed out of the bleaching light into the shadow of dun, wood-planked barracks, he was able to make out her face. A milk-white, a glacial-white, a Pomorske Cavalry-white Pole, he guessed. A girl who had journeyed a thousand kilometers only to pace this packed, almost polished ochre earth where not even the most persistent weed could sprout, where any summer shower lay for days in sheets that soaked her thinly soled shoes.
The pale one ignored the cheerless flirting of abject women with worn, woeful men. She'd not curled her hair. She'd not colored her lips. She'd not labored with needle and thread to make her poor frock more alluring. She simply paced between sun and shadow, past all caring. Who knew what she was to herself now, or who she had once been?
A common speculation, in late summer 1945. Everywhere Fass had gone, people were on the move. Or trapped in camps like this, waiting. Waiting without knowing what they were waiting for, what might come to them. It was a time of sharp suspicion, Everyone had secrets to keep from all souls -even their own. Some were more adept than others; they slept the nights through without suddenly waking rigid from dreams of death, or shivering from some cold breath of the past that had brushed them. The engineer Fass did not dream. He considered himself one of the lucky ones. Perhaps the pale girl was not.
"Hallo, little one! Come talk a while," Fass found himself calling to her in Polish as she passed not ten meters from him.
The empty dress kept moving. The girl did not look toward him or give the slightest sign she had heard his voice.
"A friendly word, little one," Fass called. "Surely you can spare that?"
The girl paced on, deaf.
"Where are you from?" Fass called, still in Polish. "Warszawa, maybe? No? Then Krakow?"
"What are you saying?" the empty dress spun and shouted at Fass in perfect German. The crowd at the wire ignored the outburst.
"I am only asking to introduce myself, and learn your name," the engineer said.
The pale one stormed straight at him with a fierceness that caused Fass to take half a step back, despite the wire between them. "I am German, you Polack idiot," she snarled. "Stop shouting at me in that filthy language."
"Surely I'm not mistaken," Fass said, stubbornly sticking to Polish when she stood furious before him, fists on her hips.
"Surely you're not actually Polish, either," she sneered. Her German, Fass noted, had the accent of Brandenburg.
"Is it that obvious? I was brought up in Stettin. I've been speaking this since I was a child."
"Gutter Polish, that's all. And even in that you're no good," she said in German.
"I am Fass, Walter. May I know your name?" the engineer asked, switching at last to the language of his birth.
"You may know nothing except that I want you to go away from here at once. Never speak to me in Polish. Do not speak to me at all."
"Czy pani skonczyl," Fass smiled.
"No, I have not finished. You are either a fool, or with the police. Now go away!"
"I'm certainly not with the police," he protested.
"Zeigen Sie mir Ihre Papiere." She was mocking him now with the precise toneless arrogance heard too often this past decade, the casual but absolute certainty of being obeyed that SD and SS men once possessed.
The engineer fumbled in the breast pocket of his suit, retrieved his identity card along with his discharge from the prisoner-of-war camp, and held them up to the wire for her. It was forbidden to pass anything through, but the American MPs seemed not to care if you did; to let your papers out of your grasp for even a moment, though, was reckless, foolish. Fass released his anyway to the girl's hostile hands.
The pale girl was blessed with eyes that were not windows to anything at all. They were as flat, blank and unfathomable as any Fass had ever seen. She studied the raggedly typed information as if she were memorizing it, held the cards up to examine the stamps front and back against the sunlight, looked from his photo to his face. She thrust the cards back through the wire.
Then she spat on the beaten ground.
"Anyone could have papers like these. Stamps are easily forged," she said. "Or used by the authorities to make a man seem what he is not. If you're not police, or a Russian agent, why were you screaming at me as if I were Polish? Why are you trying to jeopardize me?" Her fists were clenched, the muscles of her bare forearms taut.
"Jeopardize you?" Fass asked, momentarily bewildered. "How? There's no danger here. You're a refugee, in an American camp. What trouble could there be?"
"You have suffered a head wound. It has left you a little deranged, nicht wahr?" the girl stated quietly, her impenetrable eyes dominating his. The engineer's gaze slid swiftly away. He knew his error now.
The new rules: you never asked anyone, even obliquely, who they were, where they were from, where they had been, what they had done in wartime. You never enquired about the source of anyone's fears. You waited to be told, and you did not question what you heard. Those who became too curious were sometimes found in a ditch with their throats slit or a black-crusted bullet hole behind one of their ears. Such eliminations were frequent, easily arranged, rarely investigated.
But Fass was not afraid, only deeply embarrassed.
"Please excuse me for bothering you," he said in formal German to the girl, bowing slightly, ashamed to meet her eyes. Then he turned from the wire and walked away down a newly broadened road edged with precisely spaced pines, toward the base that an American Army armored unit had established about a kilometer from the DP camp. Near it, in a hollow beneath a careless stack of railway ties that was his home, he draped his ratty blanket over his shoulders and willed himself to forget all wounds and scars, all his mistakes and missteps. He dismissed the empty dress. He tried instead to recall how good it had felt, once, to regard each day with confidence that you deserved to live it, that you'd done no act so brutal or hideous that it made your presence on this earth an insult to human decency.
Fass felt he could never again hold that certainty about himself...
...AS SHE LAY UNDER HER BLANKET, Anja regretted that she hadn't faced Fass down the day after he called to her, instead of hiding and trembling like a rabbit. She knew better than to behave that way. It was dangerous. It made people think you had reason to hide. She mustn't let anything like that happen again. She must be as she'd always been, since Krakow time. She must volunteer nothing. She must obey all the wartime rules, even in this new dispensation of peace. She must be Anja the Liar always.
But suddenly Anja felt herself facing a blankness. What was the cost of constant deception, this eternal creation of false fronts? Lately she had begun to feel she was only a sketch, and that whoever had drawn her had put down the pencil and started to erase. Would there be anyone real left, if things kept on this way? Was there a true Anja anymore? Or was she already nothing but whatever lie she was living at the moment?
She had lost a little more of herself even here in this camp. It was laughably simple to get the Czechs and the Slovaks and Southern Slavs to think of her just as she wished: a cold Prussian, snobbish and arrogant despite all misfortune. They sneered, they were pleased at her downfall, they left her alone. She was disliked by all, which was what she wanted.
But then a fact came to her, one so obvious Anja felt astonished she had never considered it before: She was being mourned as one of the fallen by her parents, friends and comrades in Krakow. Sweet brave Anja was, for them, among the dead. The heroic Polish dead!...