Bearing the Body, by Ehud Havazelet, is an intense look at family dynamics and the after-effects of the Holocaust in relation to the silence of the survivors, survivors trying to quietly assimilate in a new environment. Often times the events of the past are so horrific and traumatic, that they are difficult for one to bear. Havazelet has an deep comprehension of this.
Dysfunction reigns, and rains, heavily, through the clouds of family dynamics. Silence resounds loudly, echoing fragments of the past, of the Holocaust. Assimilation and trying to forget one’s past affects the children of survivors, in more ways than one can imagine. This novel depicts that dilemma. It is a story of survivors passing their burdens to the next generation to bear, within their bodies, both emotionally and mentally, not to mention the physical consequences of that decision. Secrets are kept, yet those very secrets are what has caused family rift, family anger, family emotional separation and lack of unity.
Sol, the father, is a Holocaust survivor, and a man who is silently carrying the burdens of the past. Due to his silence he is subject to strange behavior. Daniel, the eldest son, has unexpectedly died. Nathan, the youngest son, is a boy in a man’s body. Nathan is stuck in time, and can’t seem to evolve from his childhood. He has hang-ups, including use of marijuana, alcohol, and has sexually obsessive issues. He is a womanizer, and his life revolves around his sexual urges and impulses, and his desire for immediate gratification, no matter the cost. One despicable act, in the first few pages of the book, cost him his relationship with his girlfriend. He doesn’t seem to get the reasoning, though, and keeps phoning her to try to win her back. He is in denial, and won’t face the truth of the situation, and the resulting consequences of his actions.
Sol writes to strangers, family members of those murdered in the Holocaust, in order to express to them some form of sympathy and condolence. Yet, he bore the burden of silence, choosing not to reveal to his sons the facts of his surviving the Holocaust. He keeps a constant foot in his old world, while simultaneously keeping his other foot rooted in Queens. He is a man constricted and restricted, emotionally and verbally. He is unable to tell his sons that he loves them, much to the chagrin of his wife. His silence has kept him from moving forward, causing disharmony within the family unit.
Sol and Nathan have traveled to San Francisco to find out what caused Daniel’s death. While there, Sol becomes hospitalized. Nathan resorts to alcohol, denying and pushing his father’s illness to the background of his mind. Sol eventually leaves the hospital, alone, due to Nathan’s drinking binge.
During one scene in the novel, Sol carries Daniel’s ashes up the steep and hilly streets of San Francisco. Bearing the body of his son, bearing the bodies of his family members who were Holocaust victims, bearing the bodies of so many souls, bearing his own body with its aging medical problems, bearing the burden of loss, bearing the lack of verbalizing his love for his sons. So much to bear in one human body.
There are no right answers to the questions that the Havazelet’s writing evokes. He writes with sensitivity, ever aware of the frailty of humans, ever conscious of the Holocaust and of the repercussions and consequences of the survivors’ choices. Havazelet has written a novel of family dynamics, a sobering and serious-toned novel, and one not to be taken lightly. Many readers might not like the tone, like the realistic portrayal of a family on the verge of disassociation, not only from each other, but from life in general. It is a difficult story to become involved in, and the content might be misconstrued by some readers. It is a dreary book, a book that is burdensome. In my opinion, that is what Havazelet is trying to convey…the burdens of the body, carried by not only Holocaust survivors, but the generations to follow. History has colored the lenses and emotions of the Nathan and his brother, filtered by the lack of communication from the parents. Havazelet dramatically makes the reader aware that the cycle continues, and will continue, unless it is somehow broken.
Havazelet is definite in the fact that one should not be silent. Yet he isn’t judging those who are. He is aware of man’s faults, and of man’s weaknesses, and it is apparent in his writing. He is emphasizing that one must bear witness, because it is extremely necessary for family members to realize their familial history. It is necessary for them to try to come to terms with the past, in order for them to move forward. Grandparents and parents must find a way to tell their grandchildren and children about the Holocaust. Their experiences must be carried down through the generations. Their stories shouldn’t be left in the caves within the mind and soul to fester, causing unhealthy and extreme emotional outlets. In my opinion, that is Ahud Havazelet’s message, and he delivers it through intense word images, and through masterful writing, in the pages of Bearing the Body.
May 2, 2013 – 22 Iyyar, 5773
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