The Holocaust is a central event in many people’s lives, but it also has become a metaphor for our century. There cannot be an end to speaking and writing about it.
Normally, I post my link compilations on Friday morning, before Shabbat. But this week, I made so many worthy discoveries after I prepared the Friday post that I am compelled to present a second batch. Let’s consider it the “Shavua Tov” edition!
If you follow this blog, it’s likely not news to you that one of my most trusted resources for information on new Jewish books is Josh Lambert’s column on Tablet. But I found something especially newsworthy in this week’s column: a mention of William C. Donahue‘s Holocaust as Fiction: Bernhard Schlink’s Nazi Novels and Their Films (Palgrave).
To explain why this discovery resonated so strongly, I must backtrack.
Almost eighteen years ago, when I was entering a Ph.D. program in Modern French history, I found myself in an intensive summer school class, trying to acquire sufficient skills to pass the German portion of my department’s language requirements. Yes, I was focusing on France, but the department required me, as a Europeanist, to demonstrate sufficient reading knowledge of both French and German.
Never mind that my paternal grandparents had been born and raised in Germany. Never mind that my father grew up speaking German at home–his grandmother, who joined the family in New York in 1946, never really learned to speak English. Never mind that, at times throughout my childhood, my father and his parents would switch to German when they wanted to communicate something they did not want my sister or me to understand. I hadn’t learned German. I hadn’t wanted to learn it. But that summer of 1993, I didn’t have a choice any longer. And William C. Donahue (Bill), then pursuing his own doctoral studies, was my instructor.
Bill was an excellent teacher (as was the other then-graduate student, Joe Metz, who worked with our group in additional drill sessions). And although, as his new book’s title suggests, his primary scholarly interests rested in German literature, Bill was very conscious of and sensitive to pedagogical issues—including the issue of how Nazism and the Holocaust were taught and represented in elementary German-language instruction.
Ultimately, Bill wrote (and won an award for) an article titled “‘We shall not speak of it’: Nazism and the Holocaust in the Elementary German Course.” I am proud that one of the appendices to this article comprises questions that I conveyed that summer from my classmates to my grandparents during a weekend visit, and my grandparents’ responses. (If you click the link above, you’ll see only the first page of the article. Bill mentions the interview there, but you’ll need full access via a participating library or publisher to see the article and interview in their entirety.)
One word that I learned that summer working with Bill and Joe appears more than once in what is the effective title story of my forthcoming collection, Quiet Americans. It’s a word that resonated strongly when I learned it, and, evidently, it stayed with me long past the time when most of the others that I’d learned that summer had, frankly, disappeared from my memory.
As the story’s narrator explains, “It’s a word that means, roughly, ‘coming to terms with the past.’”
Bill Donahue has helped me–and, I am sure, many others–with that process of coming to terms with the past. I look forward to reading his new book.
Oh, and by the way: Bill (and Joe) also helped me pass my department’s German exam that long-ago fall.
As the blogger behind My Machberet, I am delighted to welcome you to the December home for the Jewish Book Carnival. Launched by Heidi Estrin and Marie Cloutier, the Carnival is a monthly event where bloggers who blog about Jewish books can meet, read, and comment on each others’ posts. The co-creators established it to build community among bloggers and blogs who feature Jewish books. The Carnival is headquartered on the Association of Jewish Libraries blog, and it runs every month on the 15th.
Without further ado, I am proud to present the December Carnival:
- Spending some time today shopping for holiday gifts? For children’s book guidance, you may want to peruse these recommendations published on Tablet.
- Speaking of children’s books: Check out Barbara Krasner’s excellent report describing last weekend’s Jewish Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Conference.
- On my personal wish list (hi, Mom!): Ruth Franklin’s new book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies & Truth in Holocaust Fiction. (Franklin has been blogging this week for the Jewish Book Council/MyJewishLearning.com. Here’s one post that I especially appreciated.)
- And the In the Moment blog reminds me that I still haven’t read Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, either.
- Finally, if you haven’t caught it yet, my review of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons, is now available.