The Most Precious of Cargoes

Jean-Claude Grumberg

Translated by Frank Wynne
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21 January 2021
112 pages

'A magnificent small book to read urgently' Libération

Once upon a time in an enormous forest, there lived a poor woodcutter and his wife. Around them a war wages, and hunger is a constant companion. Yet every night, the woodcutter’s wife prays for a child.

A Jewish father rides on a train holding twin babies. His wife no longer has enough milk to feed both children. In hopes of saving them both, he wraps his daughter in a shawl and throws her into the forest.

While foraging for food, the woodcutter’s wife finds a bundle, a baby girl wrapped in a shawl. She knows that this little girl will be hunted, but she cannot ignore this gift: she will accept the precious cargo, and raise her as her own.

Set against the horrors of the Holocaust and told with a fairytale-like lyricism, The Most Precious of Cargoes is a fable about family and redemption which reminds us that humanity can be found in the most inhumane of places.

A magnificent small book to read urgently.


A fable about the Holocaust inspired by what [Grumberg’s] grandfather Naphtali experienced. He appeared in convoy number 45, which left Drancy on November 11, 1942 with 178 women, men and children on board. In convoy number 49, in March 1943, was his father. This tragedy . . . succeeds in mixing the light and the unbearable.

Le Figaro

In a few years, the witnesses of the Shoah, those who knew the camps and returned, will no longer be there to tell what happened . . . To put into words what "negates all literature", the writer and playwright Jean-Claude Grumberg has chosen the form of a tale.