Posts Tagged ‘holocaust’

Far to Go – Alison Pick

Posted in Dual Time Frame, Historical Fiction, Literary Prizes on August 4th, 2011 by admin – 7 Comments

One of the longlisted novels for the Booker Prize 2011,  Far to Go is certainly attracting a lot of attention from readers and all with good reason -  it’s a refreshing look at a period of history which should never grow stale in our minds no matter how many years go by.

The main focus of the novel is on the Bauers, a young, secular Jewish family living in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia which has been invaded by Germany.  Pavel, a wealthy factory owner, Anneliese, his stunning, self obsessed wife and their six year old son, Pepik flee to Prague hoping to leave the ominous shadow of the Nazis behind them.  Marta, their dutiful Gentile governess, accompanies them, not so much out of duty but because they’re all she’s got – she doesn’t hold Jews in the highest regard but, like a lot of ordinary Europeans caught up in the war, she  probably wouldn’t be able to tell you why.   Eventually, all hopes are lost apart from those pinned on little Pepik who is sent on the Kinderstransport to the UK, hoping to be reunited with his family and Marta after the war.

Despite having studied WWII as part of  my History O Level course (many, many moons ago..) my knowledge has remained rather sketchy until recently when I have had the good fortune to read some excellent fiction set during this period.  Reading about the Bauers and their efforts (including bribery) to get Pepik out of Czechoslovakia will enlighten readers about the Kinderstransport and the heartache of separation albeit for a greater good, or what they thought was a brighter future… 

As well as educating the reader, this novel also achieves a more balanced view of events as the narrator who divulges the Bauers’ fate and who also holds their fate in her hands, is a Gentile with no political aspirations.  Marta, the governess, is more concerned with looking after Pepik and protecting him from the growing anti-semitic feeling which is gripping Sudetenland.  She has little in common with her conniving adulterous lover, Ernst, who hopes to gain financially from Pavel’s downfall.  Still, she’s no saint either and self-preservation is at the forefront of everyone’s mind be they Jew or Gentile, Czech or German.

What I love about Far to Go is its simplicity and unpretentiousness – the characters are flawed, real flesh and blood creations who find themselves in the most surreal of situations and whilst they aren’t always the most likeable they are all the more credible as a result.  Yes, it’s a story which will affect you emotionally but it doesn’t dwell on sentimentality and presents the truth in simple prose, in black and white.  The one minor difficulty I did have was getting into the rhythm of the story as several narrative strands are introduced very quickly, almost on top of each other – the story of the Bauers set in 1939, a contemporary storyline whose narrator remains a mystery until later and also letters written by Jewish parents to the children they sent to the UK.   However, this is just a minor quibble for me and it quickly becomes a compelling, coherent read.

Alison Pick has carved a fresh, fictional work out of the past experiences of her Czech grandparents who fled to Canada following Hitler’s invasion of their native country.  It’s a fitting tribute to all those who did not survive and those children who were never reunited with their parents.

  • Share/Bookmark

Night by Elie Wiesel

Posted in Transated Fiction on November 11th, 2010 by admin – 4 Comments

In Night, Elie Wiesel recounts his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald from 1944-45.  He was a young teenager living in a Jewish Ghetto, Sighet in Transylvania and in the early years of the war the Jewish community were left to live in relative peace.  In the opening chapter of the book, Moche, the synagogue caretaker, escapes a mass execution by the Nazis after being deported from Hungary.  He returns to Sighet to warn the remaining Jews of the Nazi threat but no one pays him any heed, thinking that such cruelty is unconscionable.

He told his story and that of his companions.  The train full of deportees had crossed the Hungarian frontier and on Polish territory had been taken in charge by the Gestapo.  There it had stopped.  The Jews had to get out and climb into lorries.   The lorries drove toward a forest.  The Jews were made to get out.  They were made to dig huge graves.  And when they had finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs.

I did not believe him myself.  I  would often sit with him in the evening after the service, listening to his stories and trying my hardest to understand his grief.  I felt only pity for him.

Eventually, they do believe Moche but it is too late and Elie and his family are sent to the death camps where survival becomes the ultimate prize at any cost even if it means ignoring the needs of the weak and forgetting about family loyalties.  Elie, who had once been a devout Orthodox Jew, finds it difficult to see God in the midst of such barbarity,

My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man.

Without melodrama, without oversentimentality, stating what happened in a straightforward narrative, Elie conveys the full horror of these events.   This novella deserves to be ranked among the must-reads in Holocaust Literature alongside Primo Levi’s work and The Diary of Anne Frank.

  • Share/Bookmark