Magazine article Tablet Magazine

On the Bookshelf

Magazine article Tablet Magazine

On the Bookshelf

Article excerpt

Can anyoneespecially anyone who reads book reviewsdoubt that the Holocaust is still with us? Even as the horrors themselves grow more distant, scholars continue to demonstrate how the Holocaust still resonates. In Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma (Columbia, November), for one instance, the psychoanalytically inclined literary scholar Gabriele Schwab reads second-generation narratives by Germans and Jewsincluding Ruth Kluger, Georges Perec, W.G. Sebald, and Sabine Reichelto explore the ways that the crimes of 1939 to 1945 play out decades later for descendants of victims and perpetrators both. Delayed responses to trauma interest Schwab for personal reasons, she explains: Not until 1987, when she was already a professor in California, did she realize that Jews might have once lived in Tiegen, the small German town on the Swiss border where she had grown up.

The idea of trauma passing from one generation to the next does not sit well with all observers of post-Holocaust art and memorials. In The Afterlife of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Literature and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, October), Richard Crownshaw examines recent artistic and memorial responses to the Holocaustnot to mention the trauma theory that grows atop such representationswith a measured skepticism about the increasingly accepted idea that trauma can be transmitted, passed along from the Nazis' victims to people who weren't born, in many cases, until half a century after the war.

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Writing for The New Republic and other respected publications, Ruth Franklin has constructed a rather impressive career as a non-academic critic who focuses her energies largely on literary responses to the Holocaustwhich in and of itself says something about the proliferation of such texts. (It tells us, specifically, that "Holocaust literature" is, at least according to the editors of intellectual magazines, as deserving and sensible a critical specialization as American, British, French, or Russian literature, if not even more so.) Franklin's first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford, November), reexamines canonical texts in this traditionWiesel, Levi, Borowski, Rawicz, Sebaldarguing that readers should be less uptight about factuality in representations of the Holocaust (a point the box office and critical acclaim for Inglourious Basterds suggests is not such a hard sell, except to a handful of curmudgeonly hold-outs).

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While critics debate the hows and whys of Holocaust representation, historians and artists continue to mine the archives for new Holocaust stories to tell, or old narratives they can relate in new ways. Dan Porat, who teaches at the Hebrew University, for one, reanimates that old cliche about a photograph and a thousand words. Taking a single iconic image from the Holocaust as his starting point, he spins out somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 words about it, tracing the biographies of the Nazi soldiers and Jewish victims in the scene from their prewar lives until the death of the last survivor. The result is The Boy: A Holocaust Story (Hill & Wang, October), an unusual project that UCLA's David Meyer characterizes as "provocatively pushing the limits of the historian's craft."

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In some cases, it seems that stories are retold just for the sake of retelling them. …

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