The Girl Who Count­ed Numbers

January 4, 2022

Susan Reich is a 17-year-old Amer­i­can who goes to Israel seek­ing to solve a fam­i­ly mys­tery. Susan’s quest takes her to unex­pect­ed places where she con­fronts lay­ers of his­to­ry that she nev­er knew. While try­ing to find her miss­ing uncle, with the Adolf Eich­mann tri­al in the back­ground, she explores awak­en­ing emo­tions in her­self and gets involved in the polit­i­cal strug­gles of the moment.

The sev­en months that Roslyn Bern­stein spent in Jerusalem in 1961, when she lis­tened to the sto­ries of immi­grants and sur­vivors and day­dreamed about their mean­ings, was a source of inspi­ra­tion for The Girl Who Count­ed Num­bers. She has been atten­tive to his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cies of time and place but the sto­ry of Susan Reich, her fam­i­ly, and friends is fictional.

Discussion Questions

Vet­er­an jour­nal­ist, Roslyn Bernstein’s debut nov­el is ground­ed in real­i­ty and per­son­al expe­ri­ence. The Girl Who Count­ed Num­bers is set in Israel in 1961 dur­ing the Eich­mann tri­al when Bern­stein spent sev­er­al months there., She brings a reporter’s keen sense of detail to her sto­ry­telling: how the tri­al riv­et­ed the Israeli pub­lic — includ­ing many Holo­caust sur­vivors — but also how recent immi­grants from North Africa felt dis­con­nect­ed from both the buzz around the tri­al and Israeli cul­ture in gen­er­al. Sur­vivors share mem­o­ries of trau­ma, but also of desire; immi­grants tell tales of alien­ation and anger over their mis­treat­ment. Lead­ing read­ers through this com­plex nar­ra­tive is a teenage Amer­i­can girl named Susan, sent to Israel by her father to find his broth­er, who nev­er left Europe; nobody knows where he is, or if he even sur­vived the Holo­caust. As Susan search­es for him, she con­nects with both the com­mu­ni­ty of sur­vivors and the new Moroc­can immi­grants. And along the way, she learns many peo­ples’ most inti­mate mem­o­ries — some recalled with shame, oth­ers with sur­pris­ing ten­der­ness. Who, Bernstein’s nov­el asks, is allowed to keep secrets? And who choos­es when and how to reveal them?