I remember Thomas Keneally telling the story of how he came across the Schindler story when 'Schindler's Ark' ('List' in the USA) was first published. Then it won the Booker Prize and eventually, though after a long delay, was filmed by Steven Spielberg. This book covers that territory, from the moment Schindler walked into a Los Angeles bags, briefcases and leather goods shop and thereby met the extraordinary 'Leopold Page', in reality Leopold (or Poldek) Pfefferberg, to the making of the film and its success. The book is partly the story of Keneally's growing involvement in the tale and the search for other Schindlerjuden, the Jews Schindler saved, partly reflections on the Holocaust, the writing of the book, the making of the film and the moral ambiguities which surfaced in various ways at various stages of the process.
If this perhaps makes it seem a little dry, it's not. It is a highly personal book - this was often not an easy process for Keneally or his family - whose two 'heroes' are Pfefferberg, a truly remarkable man, and I think Keneally himself, though he would probably squirm in denial at that conclusion. There are interesting facts and anecdotes throughout, and many, many remarkable characters emerge, most of them other survivors. The process of getting the film made is absorbing - Keneally meeting Spielberg, the rights eventually being bought, time elasping and Spielberg working on other films, Keneally being contracted to write a screenplay, a new writer and then another being found, eventually the actual making of the film onset, meeting the actors, the first screening, the adulation - not unmixed with bitter and vociferous criticism - that it received. It's not a long book, but it covers a great deal of ground in a most involving way, and towards the end it becomes very moving. I enjoyed it very much, and I recommend it highly.
I would simply add that any who are moved and drawn in by the Schindler story, as well as seeing Spielberg's film should seek out Jon Blair's TV documentary, voiced by Dirk Bogarde and available sadly at present only in VHS form, which Keneally mentions with approval and which includes chilling interview film of Majola, Amon Goeth's mistress, close to death, whom Keneally and Pfefferbeg failed to find when they visited Vienna. Her ambivalent testimony, whispered in the pained rasp of a terminal emphysemia sufferer, is well worth hearing, and there are many, many excellent and moving interviews with DEF and Brinnlitz survivors as well. I think, in its different way, it is just as good as Spielberg's film.
on 30 October 2008
This book was "Book of the Week" on Radio 4 3rd week in October and I heard part 1 which was fasinating and immediately caught my imagination and curiosity. I then went away and missed all other episodes until I again listened to 1/2 of the last one...I was driving along with tears running down my face - totally touched and moved by the thought of the 'story teller's' pain at the final end. Unfortunately it was not available on "Listen again" so I have come to the site to see if I could get a copy of the DVD, only to learn that this is a newish book, only published in Hardback at the moment (paperback April 09).
Of course I will have to buy it, and as I wait for the post, I do wonder if reading it in book form will touch my heart as piercingly as the spoken word.
I do appreciate the Shindler subject has been written about and filmed - and is not a new subject, however the writer, Thomas Keneally, seems to have come at this at such a different angle.
on 30 June 2013
I'm surprised by some of the nit-picking, negative reviews of this book. In itself, it isn't a literary masterpiece; but it doesn't pretend to be. It's a writer's diary; the story of the writing of the book, and the making of the film. I guess the best way to think about it would be as the written equivalent of those 'special bonus features' that accompany so many movies on DVD, and on those terms it's a great read. Although written as a single narrative, I think of it in four sections: Thomas Keneally's 'finding' the story, researching and writing the book, the making of the film, and it's release and aftermath. As someone who loved the book and regards the film as one of THE movie masterpieces, I enjoyed it all. I found the sections on Keneally's research, and particularly the stories of his interviews with the survivors, very moving and they added to my appreciation and understanding of the Schindler story. At the heart of this book is Poldek Pfefferberg, and I'm also left touched by Poldek's stand to have the story of the man who saved his life told.
on 3 December 2008
I bought this book having heard extracts on the radio. As I read the book I realised how selective the programme had been. I wish I had not spent the money buying it. I found it self indulgent on the part of the writer, just a platform for how wonderful he was. Very surprised, as I had expected a more factual account of how he gathered information on Schindler NOT a vehicle for writing about his own life. Perhaps the giveaway is the large number of photographs showing the author with various people in various settings. If I had wanted an autobiography about Thomas Keneally I would have bought one.
For those who loved the film Schindler's list this is a must read/hear. It is Keneally's own story of how he came across the story of Schindler. It fills in much of the background, and not having read Schindler's List/Ark, I really enjoyed this. The book also covers the story of the film being made - another fascinating drama in itself.
I listened to the audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed the brilliant narration - the reader does many of the accents of the characters from different nationalities. I listened to it on holiday and found it hard to put down - often wandering around the cottage with my iPod - stopping and replaying bits for my wife to listen to. The 9 hours certainly didn't seem like it.
The story of Schindler itself is fascinating, but Keneally lost this listeners interest for a while when he digressed into his own life as an English Professor in the gap between the book coming out and the film being made. In some ways the book seems to forget if it is the story of the search for Schindler, or the story of Thomas Keneally.
But in the overall context of such a great and fascinating story, this is a minor gripe (although it costs him a star)
I would almost recommend the audio version (bar the price) above the written version for the narrator's ability.
Up to 1980, the name of Oskar Schindler meant little outside the community of Holocaust survivors. Then an Australian novelist needing a new briefcase walked into Poldek Pfefferburg's Hollywood store.
Keneally found in Pfefferburg a force of nature determined to reveal to the world the story of Schindler and those he saved. The book tells how, over the next 15 years, their partnership enabled Keneally to write his epochal novel, which then led Spielberg to open the story to an ever wider audience via his film. (Pfefferburg's role did not end with the success of the book, and in meetings with Spielberg he did not scruple to play the card "we're both Jews, I'm the older, so you need to regard me with respect.")
There is brief coverage of the final stages of publication, including the need to obtain legal release for mention of names not only from the Schindlerjuden but also from former SS men. (How did they get contact details for the SS veterans? Simon Wiesenthal? The Odessa? ... the mind boggles ...)
The history of the film production includes such issues as Keneally's anecdote of how Spielberg gently "sacked" him from involvement in the film, and a long discussion of the title change from the book "Ark" to the book "List". This section helps you to understand how an author, though pleased with a great film adaptation, still feels some loss of ownership and of the original spirit of his book.
Keneally shows that he is rightly proud of his achievement, but he also exhibits a candid modesty, e.g. his doubt as to whether the book, as only moderately fictionalising history, should ever have been a candidate for the Booker Prize.
The question not answered (and it will probably never be answered) is, to quote Keneally, "where in Schindler altruism ended and opportunism began." Or, as Helen Hirsch more crudely told Keneally, "His motives you couldn't guess and, being who he was, they made sense only in him. In some ways he was crazy."
This is not, in itself, a great book, but it is absorbing, valuable background to Keneally's masterwork.