Liliane Atlan was born in Montpellier, France, in 1932. She was kept hidden during World War II, first in her home country, then in Monaco, because she is a Jew. She began writing at a very early age, poetry first, then drama and fiction. Her work has always been centered as a European Jew growing up during the Holocaust. In The Passersby, Atlan narrates the story of a young girl suffering from anorexia in the aftermath of the war; however, this simple tale of a girl named No is also a timely and timeless allegory. Its themes are the pain of alienation, the despair of loss, the complexities of family, friendship, and love—all of them examined in light of a spiritual quest. This quest reflects the wisdom of a body of mystical writings known in Jewish tradition as the Kabbala. Profoundly influential in the past and still relevant for modern life, Kabbala seeks understanding of the links between the human and the divine, and of the ways the divine reaches into human life. As Atlan wrote me in one of her letters, "Kabbala has made a strong, visceral impression on me." In The Passersby, she shares that tradition with us, exploring the mysteries of the human spirit and revealing the vital and healing force of the divine presence. "I would tell my young readers," Atlan suggested to me, "if you want to understand The Passersby, you need only to feel what is written, to feel every word, to live it, each of you in your way, as your own story. You can read the book aloud: it is a tale to be listened to. If you wish, you can also try to discover for yourselves what Kabbala is: the esoteric source of wisdom and life."
As the translator of The Passersby, I have tried to transmit the insights and eloquence of Atlan's testament to the durability of humanity in the shadow of disaster. Her work is a personalized story as well as a myth of return and re-creation, of meaning and consolation, that speaks to the condition of our time.
In consultation with the author, I have created a brief glossary to define French and Hebrew terms and identify unfamiliar names. The glossary appears on page 85.
I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the following people for their encouragement: Liliane Atlan, George Economou, Marc Aronson at Henry Holt, Ann Farber, and Mary Victoria Wilson.