is Bela Zsolt's memoir of the Holocaust--his personal experiences in the Hungarian ghetto of Nagyvarad and as a forced labourer in the Ukraine is as tragic as it is moving. Zsolt's writing forces us past the simplicities of good versus evil and shows the awful human weaknesses, personal complicities and daily heroism and tragedy of war at its most brutal.
The difficulties and dangers of Holocaust literature are legion. (What could or should Holocaust literature be? Has Adorno's warning--no poetry after Auschwitz--been misunderstood or forgotten?) Norman G Finkelstein's provocative The Holocaust Industry has brought our attention to the difference between memorialising Nazi genocide and learning real historical lessons. But Nine Suitcases hugely deserves its publication and can fully stand alongside the work of Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel's Night. Originally published in weekly instalments, Zsolt describes in detail how he came to be in the ghetto (and the significance of those eponymous suitcases), his work as a gravedigger and labourer (ironically, in 1942, force to fight alongside the Germans); the bravery of a local Madame in serving her Jewish prostitutes; his feelings towards his Orthodox fellow inmates; and his plan to pretend a Typhus outbreak. And all of this is done with a matter-of-fact simplicity and without rhetorical flourishes or indulgences. This is an important, great book. Sometimes, Zsolt says, in the ghetto there was "a silence that provoke(d) prayer or blasphemy". We should read Zsolt and, in the ensuing quiet, decide anew what our strategies for learning and understanding should be. --Mark Thwaite
"[A] heartbreaking memoir... Unbearably immediate" (Laurence Phelan Independent on Sunday
"A sombre yet strangely beautiful account, devoid of sentimentality...the recent publication of his work in English is long overdue" (Phil Baker Sunday Times
"Remarkable...exceptional" (Caroline Moorehead Times Literary Supplement
"This is by far the best book I've come across on the subject of the extermination of Hungary's Jews" (Tibor Fischer Guardian
"Very, very rarely you read something that knocks the breath out of you... This masterpiece does" (Carole Angier Literary Review
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