Tag Archives: Holocaust After-effects

Review: Kaddish for an Unborn Child

Kaddish for an Unborn Child, by Imre Kertesz, was a difficult book, in the sense that the narrator was rambling, repetitiously, due to his stream of consciousness.

The novel opens with the word ‘No!’  It is an answer to a question asked him, the question being did he have a child.   He also answered his wife the same way, when she wanted a child.  From there the reader is led through the narrator’s bleak, dark and depressed outlook on life and living.

The narrator is a writer.  Within the ramblings the sentences run into each other, as his thoughts unfold on the pages.  He tries to illuminate all of his thoughts and feelings, often repeating what he has just stated.  This is due to the workings of his mind, and the fact he has an urgency to get it all out in the open.  This urgency is what keeps him alive, literally.  He has much to criticize regarding his life, including his childhood.

The narrator compares his abusive and restricted childhood to his existence in Auschwitz.  Rules and the oppressive environment almost seem normal to him, coming from his controlled adolescent upbringing.  Once liberated his perceptions regarding daily life continue in the same vein.  He encloses himself within the walls of isolation.

His routine continues to be a somewhat confined existence, as he transcends from being a Holocaust camp prisoner, to living for years sheltered from life in a rented room.  He compares his living arrangement to that of the camps, in the sense that he has been restricted and limited in space, and therefore in daily life.

Of course, much of his limitations have been self-induced repercussions and extensions of the Holocaust.  Once he marries, he ponders the issues of an apartment with his wife, and how he has never thought of spaciousness, furniture, this or that.  The rented room was self-contained, with all of the essentials provided.  His pen was his life’s companion.  He had need for nothing else.

I won’t delve into the story line any further.  It was enough to get through the novel in its entirety.  It was an emotionally, laborious read in many aspects, reinforcing the Holocaust and its mental and emotional effects and affects on those who survive, those who are generational survivors, and on those who are victims of a survivor’s bleak and dark mindset.  In this case, his wife was a victim of the narrator’s mindset and his demons.

Within the darkness, I found Kaddish for an Unborn Child to be an excellent resource on the philosophical and psychological aspects of humanity’s, Holocaust nightmare.

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Review – Fugitive Pieces

  Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels is more than a novel based on the Holocaust, it is a poetically-rendered geological metaphor for the power of loss and love, memory and place. Human history is woven within the bogs and peat of the past and present, as both are intertwined within the beautifully written stories.

Yes, stories. Fugitive Pieces has two narrators…one for the first two-thirds of the book, one for the last third. The transition from one narrator (Jakob) to the next (Ben) might seem awkward for some, but I found it to be a brilliant method of bringing two men from two different generations together within the whole of the novel. The layers of their lives read like an archaeological dig, through the muck and mire of the Holocaust.

Our first narratorJakob witnessed the horror of war at a young age, listening from within a cupboard, as his parents were being murdered and his sister being taken away by the Nazis. “The burst door.  Wood ripped from hinges, cracking like ice under the shouts.  Noises never heard before, torn from my father’s mouth.  Then silence.“  In order to survive, he becomes a fugitive of sorts, and he hides himself in the bogs and peat of the forest, burying himself underground, burying pieces of his past with him. He is like an organism, living for a day here, a day there within the bog, surviving as an organism or parasite, living off of the peat. Along comes Athos, a Greek geologist, who finds Jakob barely able to breathe, and brings Jakob to live with him in Greece. Athos is like a father to Jakob, and raises him like he is his own son.

Yet, all the fatherly affection and love can’t bring Jakob peace from the emotional past he is fleeing. He is like a piece of wood loosened from a desk, separated from the entirety. He dreams of his sister, Bella, in order to survive. He must have some hope, and she is his inspiration. Jakob physically matures into a young man. He becomes a poet, a writer, a translator, trying to find his way in a world of loss and sadness. He is stuck in that layer of time that has yet to be dug out.

Meanwhile, Ben looks to Jakob as a mentor. He too is a survivor. A survivor of his parents (Holocaust Survivors) and their daily nightmares, fears and eccentricities.

Michaels writes with flair and frankness, beauty and poignancy, and weaves the novel with brilliance.  Her naming each chapter is a definite foreshadowing of events and illuminations to follow.  I find her title to the book to be very revealing, if taken literally.  The transitory factor is ephemral, as parts of the whole are often short-lived, and characters, like Bella, Jakob and Ben are fugacious and unable to blossom to their full potential. Jakob is much like an organism in the geological scheme of things, in the sense he can’t let go of the past. Ben is in the same emotional situation within his family unit. Both of them have trouble with relationships, each relationship a small piece of the stepping stone to fulfillment and contentment.

Fugitive Pieces is an important story, in my opinion, not for historical fact, not for Holocaust history, but for its layers of humanity, humaneness, and the bogs of emotional pain and dust that are eventually swept away through time and love.
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