The Book of Dirt Paperback – 27 Sep 2018
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'Like Maus and Everything Is Illuminated, The Book of Dirt is less a chronicle of the Holocaust than it is a reaction to it... a story about surviving the survivors. But Presser's book is younger, and was birthed in a world, unlike Spiegelman and Foer's, where even the survivors largely have not survived. This fact grants the story a kind of reverence, and a kind of innocence.' -- Jewish Book Council
'[An] audacious work about the author's search for the grandfather he loved but hardly knew. Working in the wake of writers like Modiano and Safran Foer, Presser brilliantly shows how fresh facts can derail old truths, how fiction can amplify memory. A smart and tender meditation on who we become when we attempt to survive survival.'-- Mireille Juchau; 'A remarkable tale of Holocaust survival, love and genealogical sleuthing...A beautiful tale that will stay with the reader long after the book's end.'--Books + Publishing 'The lyrical, impassioned and culturally rich prose of The Book of Dirt, and its moral force, bears echoes of such great Jewish writers as Franz Kafka (Presser inherited his grandfather's copy of The Trial), Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Cynthia Ozick...It is a major book, and one for the times: while I was reading it, neo-Nazis in America brought fatal violence to Charlottesville, and, in Melbourne, neo-Nazis placed posters in schools calling for the killing of Jews to be legalised...The Book of Dirt is a courageous work, as necessary for us to read as it was for Presser to write.'--Saturday Paper; 'As in Sebald's prose narratives, Presser's novel inhabits and the dynamic region between fiction and non-fiction.'--Australian Book Review; 'Presser blurs the boundaries of fact and fiction in a compelling way...A wonderful and original book, told in rich, lyrically beautiful prose that is laden with history and cultural meaning.'--Good Reading; 'A heartfelt and original attempt to bridge the ever-growing gaps between history, memory and silence...Its heart beats so earnestly, and so loud...A meditation on the ethics of storytelling, of the duties we owe to the people whose stories we tell, and to the people whose stories we don't.'--The Australian; 'Always surprising and beautifully complex, and both deft and sensitive in its handling of its intertwined narratives and materials. It is an incredibly affecting book, one that lingers long after reading--and a remarkably assured debut.' --Age
'The Book of Dirt is both a loving, honest portrayal of lives that would have been erased, and an incorporation of the broader lessons of their experience into contemporary mythology. It keeps the discussion about trauma, memory, and intergenerational acts of transfer alive for those generations that follow, that risk forgetting. It is a potent achievement for a debut novel.' --Sydney Review of Books
About the Author
Bram Presser was born in Melbourne in 1976. His stories have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Sleepers Almanac and Higher Arc.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The Book Of Dirt is the first novel by Australian author, Bram Presser. In 1996, Jakub Rand lost the will to live, mere weeks after his wife, Dasa died. Both were Jews, from Prague; both had lived in the Theresienstadt ghetto during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia; both survived a period in Birkenau-Auschwitz concentration camp. Ten years after their deaths, their grandson, Bram Presser sets out to explore his grandfather’s wartime experience.
With scant details to begin his search, Presser contacts relevant bodies to learn about Jakub’s role in a group that sorted Jewish artefacts and books, the Talmudkommando, for a Nazi project called the Museum of the Extinct Race, something that had been mentioned in an inaccurate Jewish Newspaper article. He visits family in Prague and discovers traces of his grandmother’s wartime activities of which he was unaware.
Presser includes an array of helpful items that lend authenticity: photographs, a Guide to Czech Pronunciation, a Glossary of Hebrew and Czech words, and several maps. His Character list assists with the many similar names, and it’s a novel in which the author and his extended family play starring roles. From a childhood memory of his grandfather running his fingers through a patch of dirt, Presser conjures into his story a golem. With so little fact to go on, the reader may well ask “What is fact and what is fiction?” The author’s Note on Historical Sources goes some way to separating the two. This is a moving tale of survival with some fascinating aspects.
The use of the term fairy tale is not meant in any way to suggest there is anything light or fun about this book, rather, like the darker origins of the real fairy tales, there is a magical, musical and sometimes almost macabre twist to the way the story is told, as well as a very effective twist on a well known Jewish myth, that of the Golem.
The book itself follows the stories of several people as they struggle to survive the war, and the various ways their lives paths cross, and the reader cannot help but be moved by their terrible situation and the deprivations and cruelty they must endure.
What really makes this book stand out is the unusual writing style, and while it may take a little getting used to at first, it really is quite beautiful and incredibly evocative.
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Growing up, Presser’s grandparents never talked about their Holocaust experiences. After they died, Presser read a newspaper article claiming that his grandfather had been selected by the Nazis to be the literary curator of Hitler’s Museum of the Extinct Race, which inspired him to learn more and eventually lead to this book.
The Book of Dirt is historical fiction set in the context of the Holocaust, but it should appeal to any reader interested in memory, identity, and family storytelling. It is a novel about how we know the people we love, and how we recreate their lives in memory.
I am not sure what to say about this book. I found the writing beautiful, and each individual chapter was moving and interesting. However, I, like many other readers had a lot of trouble following the chronological thrust of the story. I had a difficult time keeping track of the individual characters, and would read a section, only to later realize that I was picturing one person when that section was actually following a different person.
So, although I can completely understand those readers who have raved about this book, I can’t give it such a high rating myself.