Tag Archives: holocaust

Book Review: The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick

Title: The Shawl
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0-679-72926-7
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 70
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick is one of those books that will not let go once you have read it. It is a collection of two inter-linked stories and the impact they will have on any reader is heart-wrenching and stupendous.

The Shawl consists of two stories, “The Shawl” and “Rosa”. The title story is of a woman named Rosa and the death of her child Magda in a concentration camp, at the hands of a guard, due to her niece Stella. The second story – shows the appearance of Rosa, thirty years later in a Miami Hotel as a madwoman and scavenger, remembering what she can of her child.

In both these stories, the shawl is a key element, binding them and reflecting on the times lived – before and after. The Shawl grabs your attention from page one and doesn’t let go. Ozick also beautifully represents the immigrant element through English as a Second Language medium in the second story. She also looks at the complexities of language, class and identity in the Jewish community through these stories.

What I found most amazing was the fact that so much could be said in a mere seventy page book. Sometimes one doesn’t need more words to express the emotion. Rosa is a bitter, psychologically fractured and a woman who doesn’t need anything from anyone. She just wants to be left alone to her madness and that doesn’t seem to happen.

Cynthia Ozick’s writing shines on every page. The book is not an easy read, considering the subject; however Ms. Ozick does not shy away from describing the period of horror, and its impact, even thirty years on. In essence, it is so true, that experiences never let go and Rosa is a befitting example of this.

The Shawl is not a read for the faint-hearted. Like I said Ozick doesn’t mince her words. She is direct. The book makes you wonder: Does the past really leave you or not? The book is just an exquisite tale of human suffering. A cautious read. I recommend it only to those who are interested in something like this.

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Book Review: The Druggist of Auschwitz by Dieter Schlesak

Title: The Druggist of Auschwitz: A Documentary Novel
Author: Dieter Schlesak
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250002372
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Druggist of Auschwitz is the title of this book, and for most the title is enough to either want you to read this book or stay away from it. For me it was the former. I had to read it. I have been interested in the Holocaust since forever now and that is only to understand how human nature works. The violence it is capable of and sometimes what lengths it can go to.

The author Dieter Schlesak was only 10 years old when the Russians invaded his town of Sighisoara in German Transylvania (now Rumania) in August 1944, and since then he has been trying to understand the Holocaust and how it happened ever since. The Druggist of Auschwitz is an attempt at that – to create something monumental about the possible paralyzing horror that occurred – and in this book Schlesak does a brilliant job by providing both sides of the story, that of the victim and that of the perpetrator.

On one hand in the book, you have the Jew who is safe from the horrors, a collective narrator, called, “Adam Salmen” – who is the Sondercommando of the Jewish “Special Action Squad” under the German Rule. His job is to report on the deaths in the gas chambers and tally them against the list and the cremation ovens. In his spare time, he maintains a diary describing the horrors and his state of mind and emotions.

The other side of the story is of Viktor Capesius, formerly a pharmacist in Sighisoara, whom the author knew personally. He was in charge of the SS dispensary and had control over Zyklon B that was used in the gas chambers. He also participated in the selection process of spring of 1944 of choosing who was fit to work and who wasn’t, and would ultimately meet their death. Capesius did a lot in his role – from stealing money from the Jews and stripping them to their very last valuable to converting their gold teeth to gold for his personal benefit, this book says it all. It also tells the reader of how the pharmacist met his end.

The author uses the druggist as the central voice in the book for exploring the horrors of Auschwitz. There is only a thin fictional gloss to the entire book. Otherwise all of it is true and real and maybe that is what makes it what it is. The Druggist of Auschwitz uses a new way of chronicling the lives of individuals who participated in the world’s greatest horror. The victim’s nature and role and the torturer’s aspect are clearly laid out. The writing is not easy. There will be times when the reader will be tempted to shut the book and not read further. At the same time, the writing style is hypnotic and totally worth a read. The amazing combination of fact and fiction makes it up for everything that you have read earlier about the Holocaust. I would highly recommend this one.

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Book Review: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Pearlman

Title: The Street Sweeper
Author: Elliot Pearlman
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0-571-23684-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 554
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Street Sweeper is one of those books that you cannot stop thinking about once you have finished reading it. Elliot Pearlman has done it again and you cannot help but wonder how. He mixes emotion with brutality in a manner that according to me very few authors manage to. It is not easy to do that, to sometimes cut the tension and then get the reader back on track. Having said that, the book The Street Sweeper is a tour de force which I will recommend to everyone even before starting with the review.

The Street Sweeper just makes you see things differently. It makes you realize that how closely inter-connected life is and what its mysteries are. The story is a bit of a task to get into, however once you have, then you do not want it to end. The book is multilayered to a large extent and that is one this is also not a one-time sit-down read.

The book deals with the American struggle for Civil Rights on one side and on the other it deals with the Holocaust. Lamont Williams, an ex-con African American is trying to live his life all over again, after being at the wrong place in the wrong time. He gets a job at a hospital as a janitor and befriends a cancer patient who is also a World War II survivor. Through the patient he learns about the horrors of the war, the Holocaust, the camps and the Nazis. The other spectrum of the tale is about Adam Zignelik who is a Columbian historian whose career and relationships are falling apart. Adam on the other hand is pursuing a research topic of African Americans being a part of the concentration camp, and this is where the two stories merge.

The book is very well written and magnificent in its approach. Elliot Pearlman is empathetic, however does not allow his writing to get sentimental, which is the best approach when writing such a story. The human sense of the book shines in its pages. The unique rhythm of the book and its voice is what keeps the reader going wanting to know more and more as the story progresses. The questions of Holocaust and the Civil Movement are brilliantly answered, without complicating anything.

A lot has been written about both these events; however this book is one of its kind that combines the two seamlessly. While memory is at the core of the book, there is also love, loss, longing and the fact that at the end of it all, we are all humans no matter what. The book is splendidly written, keeping the facts in mind and suiting the reader’s taste as well. I highly recommend this one.