Wartime Lies

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First edition (publ. Knopf)

Wartime Lies is a semi-autobiographical novel by Louis Begley first published in 1991. Set in Poland during the years of the Nazi occupation, it is about two members of an upper middle class Jewish family, a young woman and her nephew, who avoid persecution as Jews by assuming Catholic identities. Time and again the boy, who narrates the story from some remote point in time, reminisces about how he learned at an early age to lie in order to survive. Thus, his whole adult life is founded on the "wartime lies" of his childhood.

Wartime Lies won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 1991. The French version, Une éducation polonaise, won the Prix Médicis étranger in 1992.

Plot summary[edit]

Maciek and his aunt Tania are Polish Jews during World War II. By getting Aryan papers, they elude arrest.[1] In parallel, we follow Maciek, now fifty years old and struck by the tragedy of the consequences of a lying childhood transforming his entire life in a constant fiction.

Film adaptations[edit]

In 1976, director Stanley Kubrick approached Isaac Bashevis Singer,[2] Nobel Prize in Literature winner of 1978, to write a screenplay about the Holocaust; he declined with, "I don't know the first thing" about it. The project was put on hold until the publication of Begley’s book in 1991. In 1993 Warner Brothers green lit the film under the title "Aryan Papers", the screenplay written by Kubrick. Uma Thurman was approached to play the lead. When it became known that Steven Spielberg's similar-themed movie Schindler's List would be a competitor at the box office at release time, the project was stopped with many roles having already been cast: Joseph Mazzello as the nephew, Johanna ter Steege[3] in the lead role, Elemér Ragályi designated as cinematographer. Independent of these circumstances, Christiane Kubrick, his wife, remarked that working on the movie took a huge toll on Kubrick, putting him in a very depressed emotional state.[citation needed]

In 2005, William Monahan was hired to adapt Wartime Lies for Warner Independent Pictures in co-operation with John Wells Productions.[4]

In 2020, it was reported that Luca Guadagnino hoped to direct a film based on the novel,[5] and that he had examined Kubrick's papers on the project, held at the Stanley Kubrick Archive at University of the Arts London.[6]

Read on[edit]


  1. ^ "Wartime Lies Summary". ENotes. Archived from the original on 12 January 2021. Retrieved 2021-01-12.
  2. ^ Goldmann, A. J. (August 21, 2005). "Eyes Wide Open (his unmade films)". Haaretz. Tel Aviv. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  3. ^ Adler, Shawn (April 29, 2008). "Uma Thurman Confesses to Kubrick's 'Wartime Lies'". MTV News. Archived from the original on 30 August 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2021. Uma Thurman was considered for the role before ter Steege
  4. ^ Brodesser, Claude (10 May 2015). "WIP a 'Wartime' recruit". Variety. Archived from the original on 12 January 2021. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  5. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (11 September 2020). "Luca Guadagnino: 'I don't have the right to decide whether an actor is straight or not'". The Independent. Archived from the original on 15 September 2020. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  6. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (7 September 2020). "Luca Guadagnino pays tribute to Venice, looks forward to San Sebastian". ScreenDaily. Archived from the original on 7 September 2020. Retrieved 12 January 2021.

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