This documentary novel by Croatian writer Dasa Drndic is one of the most powerful and compelling books I have ever read, and deserves to become a classic of Nazi and Holocaust literature Centred around the family story of Haya Tedeschi, it tells of her relationship with an SS officer and the abduction of her baby when a few months old by the Lebesnborn programme. Sixty-two years later the novel opens with Haya still waiting to be reunited with him after a lifetime spent searching, and reminiscing about her turbulent past as she does so.
Within this narrative framework, the author has assembled an astonishing collage of eyewitness testimony, official documents, personal biographies, photographs, trial transcripts and even a complete list of the 9,000 Italians who were deported to the death camps. Much of the book covers familiar territory, as the era is well documented in both fiction and non-fiction. But Drndic brings a new dimension to the events by setting her story in Italy and bringing to our attention some of the lesser-known aspects of the time, such as, for example, a description of the Risiera of San Sabba, the only concentration camp on Italian soil, today a little-known and little-visited memorial, and the fact that freight-trains carrying Italian Jews and anti-fascists were allowed to travel through neutral Switzerland.
This book is an amazing achievement, meshing together both fiction and non-fiction, with almost every page presenting the reader with a new fact, a new scenario, so that the sum total is almost overwhelming. So unremitting is the tension that I couldn’t put it down and read it almost in one sitting. Even if some of the material is familiar, our involvement in Haya’s personal story as an individual brings home to us once again the true horror of the Hitler era.
The front cover calls the book “a monumental contribution to the literature of Europe’s modern history” and with that I most wholeheartedly concur.