Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’
I picked up this book second hand knowing the controversy behind it, knowing Helen Demidenko is really Helen Darville and knowing she had tried to pass this book off as family history rather than a fictionalised account of interviews with Ukrainian witnesses. I’ll take the description from the back of the book:
The Hand that Signed the Paper tells the story of Vitaly, a Ukrainian peasant, who endures the destruction of his village and family by Stalin’s communism. He welcomes the Nazi invasion in 1941 and willingly enlists in the SS Death Squads to take a horrifying revenge against those he perceives to be his persecutors.
The story is horrific and I feel partly tries to absolve certain people from their actions. I’m not here to comment on whether this is good or bad as I’m not unbiased, I am very fortunate as almost all of my family were living in Melbourne since before WWII but this doesn’t make me unbiased. I’m going to try and comment on the book and the writing.
Some of the writing is very good, I often look at a phrase or a paragraph and note how nicely it is written. I did find there was a lot left out, a lot that I was interested in or felt would have added to the story but was just omitted. I agree it’s a big story and challenging to get it all into only 157 pages. I found it challenging to recall which person was speaking as they all seemed to have the same way of speaking and there wasn’t much difference between when one finished and another started. The only time it was clear cut was when they changed hemispheres and all of a sudden the niece/daughter in Australia was speaking, it was easier to note the difference as there were references to the Australian landscape.
There was a lot missing and a lot I didn’t find believable. Back in June I reviewed a memoir written by a Lithuanian now living in Melbourne and I found myself comparing the two books. I also found myself comparing it with the books written by Arnold Zable, Café Scheherazade – Arnold Zable and Jewels and Ashes. I did try to be careful with my comparisons, Liubinas is not a professional writer, Darville/Demidenko is a journalist and Zable is an accomplished author who has run many writing workshops. Out of the three Zable was obviously the best crafted, Liubinas was very touching and as it was an honest memoir was easily believable, Darville, while well written just didn’t have that air of honesty.
One of the problems the first chapter brings to light is the way war criminals can move countries and settle into a new life. Melbourne is home to a great many Holocaust survivors, I believe there are more here than anywhere else, and among those survivors there must be some whose war record is dubious. One of the issues this book shows us is what to do with these war criminals. They are now old men and women, in so many regular crimes in Australia there is a statute of limitations where if it’s been too long since the crime was committed then the person can’t be prosecuted, has it been too long since the Holocaust and should those old men and women not be prosecuted? I don’t have the answer to that and I’m not going to express an opinion, just stating it’s brought to light by this book. Again, I’m biased so I’m only trying to comment on the book. It’s an interesting discussion and one that should be discussed on a different type of blog by someone else.
Could I even recommend it? That seriously depends on the reader. If you identify with the Jews in the Holocaust then I suggest you don’t as you’ll be really upset as it details atrocities and how people tried very hard to ignore them while profiting from them. If you are able to stay unbiased and treat it as historical fiction you’ll probably get a lot out of it. I won’t say you’ll enjoy it as enjoyment is not something you get from books like this.
My dilemma now is what to do with the book. I don’t want to keep it on my shelf, it’s been hard enough having it here so long. I don’t fancy selling it as it makes me uncomfortable. Should I just return it to the op shop? Maybe that’s what I’ll do.
Saturday night, almost five hours after the play finished and my eyes were still sore from crying. I started within moments of the actors coming onstage and stopped while they were handing out cake. It was an awesome play, totally hit the tenor of the book, with seriously good music by some fabulous players and so many phrases came directly from the book.
I was slightly on the back foot as I only started reading the book the previous weekend and had about 30 odd pages to go when we went into fortyfivedownstairs. Took it with me and read some of it on the train which made things rather disconcerting when the exact same words came back to me on the stage only a short time later.
Café Scheherazade by Arnold Zable is one of the best books. It is a retelling of the stories of some of the people who used to sit around talking and eating in Café Scheherazade in Acland Street, St Kilda until it closed in 2008. The characters are talking to a journalist who originally went into get some details for Café Scheherazade’s 35th anniversary and ended up hooked by the stories. They are challenging stories as they encompass existence in Siberia, Kobe, Vilna, Paris and Shanghai in the years surrounding and during World War II.
There are so many good things about this book I really don’t know where to start or finish so I’ll just include a paragraph and tell you why I think it’s so good.
This is a tale of many cities: each one consumed by the momentum of history. Each one recalled at a table in a cafe called Scheherazade, in a seaside suburb that sprawls upon the very ends of the earth, within a city that contains the traces of many cities.
This paragraph is a bridge between two stories. It finishes off the previous story without diminishing it, reminds us where we are, not just in the cafe, but on the seaside in a suburb in a fairly remote location. It doesn’t seem remote to the people who live there but it is remote from the places these people have come from, not just in distance but also in the food, the culture, so many other things including the weather. It then reminds us that this city has so many other cultures from so many other cities in the world and seems to lead us directly into another story. The writing is just perfect it’s succinct without leaving anything out. This paragraph is just an illustration of the whole book.
The play is exactly what I expected, it is just a reduction of the book and although it leaves out so much doesn’t lack anything. To get the mood of the play all the actors and the two musicians walk out slowly backwards in time with the Klezmer music. It was very evocative of the book and as soon as I saw them I instantly thought of how hard it would be to keep their arms up like that, but that reminded me of Yossel, one of the characters in the book, who was nearing ninety:
…age does not matter. Willpower can defeat it. I can still lift fifty kilos. I have already walked fifteen kilometres today…
That is when the tears started. Already they had evoked the book from within me and all they’d done was walk backwards on stage to the sound of the music.
Fortyfivedownstairs is a fairly small area. There were around 100 seats with only a couple empty and to get to the seats you had to walk on the stage, there was no delineation between the stage and the first row of seats. They had kept one seat aside in the front row, next to a table with a sign not to sit there and not to use the table, I managed to sit behind this seat. Martin, the journalist, sat there a couple of times and the light was focussed on him, it highlighted my lap with my copy of the book and my tissue.
Some scenes were rather fragmented with the actors giving a couple of words each in turn. I felt this highlighted the fragments of stories that have managed to be told and the fragments of families that have survived that era. They were very powerful.
I cannot tell you the best part of the book or the play as they were both so excellent all the way through. I could highlight the writing style, the characterisation, the stories themselves or so many other points but that would take up a whole book. I could highlight the acting, the music, the stage direction but again, that would take a whole book. Much better to just tell you to read the book and see the play. If you can’t do both then as they are both as good as the other you have a choice if you’re in Melbourne until the 11th of September when the play has it’s final performance, but elsewhere there is no choice but to read the book. I have one copy to sell, if I can think of a good competition before it sells I might offer it as a prize. If you miss out you can buy this book and others by Zable at his publishers, it seems to be unavailable everywhere else I’ve tried.
I hope to finish the book in the next day or so, I’d like to move onto something a little easier on the emotions.
I’ve read a number of memoirs written by Jews about their life during the Holocaust, how they survived and how they rebuilt their lives afterwards but this is the first book I’ve read from a non-Jewish viewpoint.
Liubinas was born in Lithuania and fled with her family from the Russians to the West. They had an horrific time hiding in the forest and being hid by neighbouring families until they were sent to a refugee camp in Germany. They eventually managed to migrate to Australia in 1949 and rebuilt their lives in Melbourne, buying a house and with Liubinas marrying here and having a family.
This is a wonderful book, actually three books as it’s been divided into three sections with the first one being their time in Lithuania and Germany, the second one being their time in Australia until her marriage and the third being Liubinas first visit to Lithuania. It’s interesting to see how people other than Jews were persecuted during the Holocaust. I did know about this, the figures I heard as a child were 6 million Jews killed and 6 millions others, but I’ve never managed to read any first hand accounts of it. Liubinas talks about the Jews being persecuted and actually tries to help someone at one point. The only difference I found between the Jews and Liubinas’ family is the celebrations, Liubinas’ family openly celebrated Christmas while the Jews hide all possible celebrations. We also get some information of how the Communists treated Lithuanians i.e. not well.
I loved this book, it was well written, reasonably well proofed but I felt it could use a good deal of editing. I thought it was too Australianised and would have liked to have more Lithuanian in it (with translations, of course). Liubinas calls her parents “Mother” and “Father” which I’m sure are not the words she would have used in Lithuania, I would have like to have seen the Lithuanian words and a translation as well as a glossary at the end with all the Lithuanian words, their translation and a pronunciation guide. Having said that it’s really the only problem I have with the book, it has graphic accounts of living as a Lithuanian under Communist rule, then living under German rule with a hair raising escape in good Hollywood tradition. The family had such trouble adjusting to life in Melbourne and this is shown very nicely. I found myself sympathising so much with them, it’s incredibly courageous to emigrate to a country where you don’t understand the language or the customs. The language was a little simple but I’m bearing in mind English was not her first language, nor her second, in fact I’ve lost count of the number of languages she could speak enough of to make herself understood.
Anyway, I fully recommend this book but you’re not getting it from me as this one’s staying on my shelf.
I’ve used this book for Teaser Tuesday twice as I’ve found it a challenge to get through. I know I’ve promised more blogs about AussieCon 4 but I figured you’ve been waiting for this for longer so it was well past time for this book
From the back of the book:
Jewels and Ashes is the result of a journey of discovery. Moving effortlessly between centuries and continents, and across inner and outer landscapes, it is an astonishing achievement. In one stroke, the Jewish historical experience has become mainstream literature.
I really can’t describe the book any better than that, the writing is another matter entirely. This novel was so challenging for several reasons. Arnold Zable takes us on a journey through time between Melbourne, Australia and history-torn Europe. He takes us through the pogroms in Russia in the 1900s, through the Holocaust and also through various other parts of history. Zable looks at one member or branch of his family and follows their journey through life in whatever part of the world he/she was in, looking at the people currently living there, the buildings where his family lived and also at the history of the area. His writing is very rich with words without providing us with a terribly big book – it only has 210 pages while feeling like there is 1,000 pages. There is so much in each paragraph I regularly and frequently found myself going back and reading paragraphs multiple times to ensure I’d got everything from it. Zable has written a book that begins and ends with his parents and his relationship with them, and while it feels like a poem as there’s so much imagery and so many poetic phrases it is presented as a novel. He spends a lot of time travelling through the areas he’s writing about and tells about his travels there. On so many occasions I felt as if I was there with him and could see the people and houses as well as the surrounding countryside.
I can’t say enough nice things about this book, but I did find myself in tears on so many occasions. It does deal with challenging issues, the pogroms in Russia and the Holocaust are a good part of that. It was wonderful to be able to see the parts of the world where some of my family came from without actually going there, not that it negates the need for a trip but it does help. I was also able to understand some of the feelings that would have been going through any community which had managed to get themselves out of Europe and into the safety of Australia or New Zealand, the vast majority of my family were living in Australia before the troubles in Germany and WWII.
I can’t say enough nice things about this book. If I was in the habit of giving stars I’d have to say eight out of five, it’s that good that wouldn’t have enough stars for it.
David is 12, he is in a concentration camp and is being given the chance to escape. He decides to take the chance and try as if he doesn’t then he will be shot in the back and it will be all over in a minute, very pragmatic. This is the story of his escape and how he travels all the way across several countries, discovering new foods and discovering that he likes to be clean, to Denmark where he knocks on a door and announces his name.
This is a very moving story, much like the Diary of Anne Frank. It’s not told in a diary fashion but it is told mostly in the third person. On his journey he discovers oranges and he saves a little girl whose family looks after him for a while although he makes his departure when they start asking him too many questions.
There are a number of difficult concepts so I would recommend this book for older readers, but having said that it has been and will probably continue to be on the school text book list. I do recommend you read it with your child so you’re able to help them understand things that happened during the war and also to help them with the emotions. It was first published in 1963 and I must have been a tween when I first read it and have cried every time, then and since.
This is one of the most talked about books this year. I heard so much about it from so many sources I just had to read it.
This is a really fabulous book. It details the journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah as seen through the eyes of a book conservator. I don’t know how much is correct, but the forensic ideas are just fabulous. To take such a small sample and be able to state where and when this book was looked at is just amazing. I truly admire the author for taking the facts and weaving this fantastic story around them.
Not only that, but I felt I was there. In each section of the book I felt I was really there watching and following the story.
One small segment of the book I felt wasn’t needed. How much of that was due to me wanting my 16 year old to read it and how much of it was because I felt it was out of place is a question I can’t answer. Until this point I was thinking it would be a fantastic book for her to read as it would give her a possible career to aim for. She is interested in so many elements of the work that goes into book conservation and I felt it would be good, but then came the sex scene. The first one was okay, it was glossed over, but the second one was not okay. She won’t be able to read this book for another couple of years.