Review by Booklist Review
In the first English translation of a work by controversial Israeli writer Sarid, his protagonist leads Israeli high-school groups on weeklong tours of German WWII extermination campsites in Poland. Sarid sensitively evinces the mental fatigue that comes from repeated exposure to atrocities, even for a young Holocaust historian like the unnamed guide. The guide's vivid retellings of the victims' experiences can overwhelm the emotions of those on the tour. In one episode, a Holocaust survivor requires assistance after essentially reliving the last moments of his mother's and sisters' lives. Framed as a report by Sarid's narrator to his employer at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial and research center, it is also serves as a fictional memoir. Sarid examines how our understanding of the Holocaust and, implicitly, other periods of strife is dependent on those who interpret history for us. Through the eyes of the narrator, we learn much about humanity's endurance as well as the inhumanity and moral ambiguities in historical narratives. Sarid effectively challenges us to bear witness alongside the characters in this thought-provoking book.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In this scathing, ruminative tale of a historian turned guide to concentration camps, Sharid (The Third) considers the way Israel deals with the Holocaust. The unnamed narrator leaves his family behind for months at a time to lead tours for Israeli high school students, soldiers, and dignitaries at concentration camps in Poland. Poland is shabby and depressing, but Auschwitz, he says, always impresses: "The branding does its job." The narrator's story is framed as a letter to his boss about an incident he was involved in during a tour, when he punched a guest, and the letter becomes a record of a breakdown, an impassioned consideration of memory and its risks, and a critique of Israel's use of the Holocaust to shape national identity. Why, he wonders, do he and the students find themselves admiring the Nazis? Why is it so easy to scapegoat the Polish--no heroes, certainly, but not the masterminds either? And why do the students wrap themselves in Israeli flags and sing the national anthem at Auschwitz? The narrator turns over these questions as family responsibilities pull him back to Israel. Sharid's unrelenting examination of how narratives of the Holocaust are shaped makes for much more than the average confessional tale. (Sept.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
In a report to the Chairman of the Board of Yad Vashem, a historian recounts how his life and livelihood became consumed by his study of the Holocaust. Award-winning Israeli novelist Sarid's latest work is a slim but powerful novel, rendered beautifully in English by translator Greenspan. The unnamed narrator, addressing an official at the Israeli Holocaust memorial museum Yad Vashem, explains how he ended up in his current position as a disgraced Holocaust scholar. His limited career options as a young academic--whose dissertation focused specifically on the details of extermination processes among concentration camps--led him to become first a Yad Vashem tour guide, then a leader of teen tours of Poland, then a guide accompanying ambassadors and elected officials on their Holocaust remembrance photo ops. Because of his expertise, he is asked to explain such horrors as the mechanics of the gas chambers and the strategy behind crematorium location and how these vary from camp to camp; he is even called on as a consultant for an Auschwitz "virtual reality" simulation. As he gets further into the story of his career, himself wandering deeper into the barren moral landscape he has dedicated his livelihood to assessing, the reader's emotional journey mirrors his own: The unthinkable becomes mundane, gruesome atrocities become bland facts. Propelled by the narrator's distinctive voice, the novel is an original variation on one of the most essential themes of post-Holocaust literature: While countless writers have asked the question of where, or if, humanity can be found within the profoundly inhumane, Sarid incisively shows how preoccupation and obsession with the inhumane can take a toll on one's own humanity. As the narrator falls into the clutches of "the memory monster," he is forced to consider--and the reader alongside him--at what point we ourselves become memory monsters. Sarid does not shy away from the aspects of these questions that cause many to avert their eyes. For instance, he limns the devastatingly simple cycle that leads the traumatized to inflict trauma upon others, his narrator recounting the sometimes ugly effects of the macho survivor mentality on Zionism: As he leads a tour of Majdanek, "on the few hundred meters' walk from the gas chambers to the dirt monument and the crematoriums, I heard them talking about Arabs, wrapped in their flags and whispering, The Arabs, that's what we should do to the Arabs." Nevertheless, the novel is anything but moralistic; it is, if not an indictment of Holocaust memorialization, a nuanced and trenchant consideration of its layered politics. Ultimately, Sarid both refuses to apologize for Jewish rage and condemns the nefarious forms it sometimes takes. A bold, masterful exploration of the banality of evil and the nature of revenge, controversial no matter how it is read. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.