8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
How future generations will know about the horrors of the Holocaust has been a question in the minds of survivors, scholars, artists, politicians and many others from as early as the war period itself. In the depths of the Warsaw Ghetto, Emanuel Ringelblum was concerned enough with this issue that he organized the collecting of the Oyneg Shabes Archive to document and describe, in every format possible, that which was witnessed in the ghetto.
Ruth Franklin realized, when she set out to write her book, that there are those, who like Theodor Adorno and Elie Wiesel, insisted that only a person who actually lived through the Holocaust could truly tell future generations about it and that in some way art and the Holocaust could not coexist. So it seems that the memoirs and oral histories of the survivors would be, to this school of thought, the only sources of acceptable evidence about those terrible, incomprehensible times. On the other hand, Franklin insists that "if we look to literature...to teach us about life, then it is no wonder that we desperately desire it to teach us also about the Holocaust... one of the most obscene catastrophes in history." So the compromise must be "to find a secure place, somewhere between memory and imagination (Langer)," in order to properly remember the victims. Franklin accepts the premise that there really is no clear line, but rather a fuzzy one, separating memoirs and literature, truth and fiction, history and art.
The author thoroughly researched the literature, classical and the most contemporary, for all that she could find on the tensions mentioned above. She then chose to study writers on the Holocaust, witnesses as well as `those who came after' and analyzed their works in a most brilliant manner. The first group includes Borowski, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Rawicz, Kosinski and Kertesz. In the second group are: Keneally and Spielberg, Koeppen, Sebald, Schlink and, of course Wilkomirski and other writers of very recent works.
It is regretable that she did not include Aharon Appelfeld as one of the authors to analyze, even though he was very young during the Holocaust. He would have been an excellent example of someone who could belong in either of the two groups and, as James E. Young stated: "If there is a line between fact and fiction, it may by necessity be a winding border that tends to bind these two categories as much as it separates them, allowing each side to dissolve occasionally into the other." That is certainly true in Appelfeld's body of work.
Any library, academic, high school or synagogue with a good collection of Holocaust works, fictional as well historical, should include this superb work of analysis of some of the most important and controversial Holocaust fiction.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
It is truly wondrous when an author possesses such an authoritative voice and passion for her subject that she can fully immerse the reader into the topics and issues she holds so dear. For an area easily considered (at first glance) dry, or overwrought-- indeed, the author acknowledges "Holocaust fatigue," among other important subjects, head on--Ms. Franklin's fervor and fascination quickly becomes the reader's own. Exhaustive in its analysis yet always engaging, doggedly researched but never lacking a humanizing, personal element of its subjects, "A Thousand Darknesses" is a masterful, mesmerizing compendium of three generations of Holocaust literature.
Seven decades on-- as the last of the survivors in our midst are passing-- a work of this nature is more important than ever. For the "fourth generation" now coming up through grade school, Franklin's work will serve as a touching conclusion-- or perhaps the perfect starting point-- for newcomers to learn and choose how to immerse themselves into the reams of material available. It will also pose as a helpful guide for them to heed caution, since they will undoubtedly encounter conundrums and contradictions in the works available along the way. Franklin deftly reveals how even the literary "touchstones," held high in the public consciousness (Shindler's Ark- converted to film as Shindler's List), are rife with exaggerations, embellishments, or outright fictionalizations, while condemned works were correctly called "novels" all along (Kosinksi) but simply interpreted otherwise, although said authors, on the literary upswing, were not so quick to clarify misconceptions. But can heralded and censured works alike nonetheless be worthy of our affection? In a nuanced, impassioned (but always reasoned) tone, the author makes the case that indeed, most can, even after an her impressive deconstruction-- which she rightfully finds preferable to more the common uncritical and overblown praise.
Our collective infatuation with the Holocaust's unspeakable tragedy now seems to be subsiding, but earlier eras offered an array of artistic interpretation, from straightforward factual accounts (Weisel, Borowski) that condemned anything derivative or indulgent to more taboo interpretations involving poetic license (Levi, Rawicz) to outright usurpations of authentic narratives by frauds (Wilkomirski) and later descendants (Schlink-German; Rosenbaum- of Jewish survivors). Not a shade of this is missed by Franklin's all-encompassing analysis, the work at times even delving into more over-arching paradoxes of psychological (unreliability of witness accounts, poetic license even in the later synthesis of real experiences), cultural (literary careers defined by "authenticity" leading to fraud and embellishments), linguistic (Franklin engages in many direct translations, and takes to task original translations, by so-called scholars and blood relatives), religious / philosophical (whether any sense can be made by unspeakable suffering, and whether faith is justified in its aftermath) and legal importance (statutes of limitations and limited scope of certain prosecutions). There are candid reveals, counterweight stances against normative trends of praised and discredit authors, and surprising revelations.
Through Franklin's work, newcomers and erudite scholars alike can choose how to (further) immerse themselves, taking stock of the varying shades of artistic influence inspired by this 20th century horror, and ensure-- most importantly-- that we never forget.