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.