In his debut novel, A Play for the End of the World, Jai Chakrabarti weaves together plotlines set in New York and India during the 1970s and Warsaw during World War II. Michal Leibowitz explains the premise, and the real events it is based on, in her review:
Four days before the beginning of the great deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, on July 18, 1942, the inhabitants of its orphanage staged a play. Dak Ghar (The Post Office), written by the Bengali poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, was chosen for the children by Janusz Korczak, the orphanage’s famous director. It tells the story of a dying orphan boy who is shut away from the world due to serious illness and must learn to live instead through his imagination. Korczak reportedly hoped the play would help the children learn to face death with equanimity.
No children survived the liquidation of Korczak’s orphanage. Almost 200, along with about ten of their caretakers and Korczak himself, were deported to Treblinka. . . . A Play for the End of the World, follows a fictional survivor of Korczak’s orphanage who travels to rural India in 1972 to help a group of refugees stage the same Tagore play and rescue their village from destruction.
Despite this grim historical backdrop—as well as a parallel plotline involving a bloody Maoist uprising in India—Chakrabarti exhibits what Leibowitz terms “blinding sentimentalities.”
[The] Warsaw chapters often skim over the surface of the orphanage’s harsher realities. They depict an idealized [Korczak], largely devoid of personality and entirely of vice (the historical Korczak, though saintly, was still a man, and he had a taste for vodka and sometimes displayed a temper). And they eschew the most horrible truths about life in the Warsaw Ghetto orphanage, such as the occasional banishment of uncontrollable children and the fact that little beyond Korczak himself prevented those he watched over from joining the emaciated boys and girls who lay frozen to death in the ghetto’s gutters just outside the building’s walls.
Even the children’s orphanage diaries are sanitized in Chakrabarti’s version. . . . The real concerns of children in the orphanage . . . were both far darker and more practical than those of Chakrabarti’s imagined orphan child, who confronts death through the mortality of a dog, as if he is not a boy surrounded by it.