Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism and the Problem of English
Gubar, Susan, Shofar
Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism and the Problem of English, by Alan Rosen. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. 241 pp. $45.00.
Alan Rosen, who has read widely in recent scholarship on the Holocaust, engages the ideas of such thinkers as Dorothy Bilik, Shoshana Felman, Sander Gilman, Alan Mintz, and Hana Wirth-Nesher. Like many of these critics, he approaches the subject of Holocaust history, fiction, and film with an appreciation of spoken and written Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and German as well as English languages and traditions. Indeed, what he contributes to our understanding of North American litet ary history in the post-World War II period is a keen awareness of how English itself is challenged and changed, devalued and revalued, marginalized and then oddly centralized by the sounds and senses of idioms more deeply implicated in the everyday disasters that beleaguered European Jewry during the "final solution."
Because English was not spoken by most petpetrators and victims, North American creators of testimonials and novels, movies and historical investiga- tions often emphasized the problematical language in which they were composing. Foreign accents and words, narratives about lost and found, learned or regained mother and other tongues abound in Rosen's texts, whose audiors for the most part tecognized the marginality and neutrality of English in relation to the Holocaust experience. The chronological and generic range of Rosen's texts is broad: he includes the psychologist David Boder, whose transcribed interviews of displaced persons were printed in English right after the war, John Hersey's novel The Wall (1950), Ruth Chattertons novel Homeward Borne (1950), Philip Roth's short story "Eli, The Fanatic" (1959), Edward Wallant's novel The Pawnbroker (1961), Hannah Arendts articles on Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), Sidney Lumet's film adaptation of The Pawnbroker (1965), Cynthia Ozick's two-stoty collection The Shawl (1989), Yaffa Eliach's revision of survivors' stories Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust (1988), Art Spiegelman's Maus (1986-91), and Anne Michaels's lyrical novel Fugitive Pieces (1996).
Each close reading enables Rosen to elaborate upon the different meanings of the English language's marginality and neutrality in relation to the Shoah. Despite a miserably unreliable Index, teachers will find useful insights into wotks often assigned in Holocaust studies courses. Rosen's discussion of Cynthia Ozick's allusions to Celan and Shakespeare, for instance, enriches understanding of maternal loss in The Shawl. Similarly, Rosen explains how Art Spiegelman's survivor-father gains a measure of control and the means to endure persecution through his acquisition of English and yet how his fractured narrative voice manages "to torture English into being a foreign language" (p. …