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On “Holocaust Fiction”

cover19_240x3281ruled46In the new (fall) issue of the Jewish Review of Books, I respond to a piece published in the summer issue.

My response begins:

“As an avid reader of novels and short stories, and as the author of a story collection myself, I am always pleased to see fiction discussed within the JRB’s pages. But in the case of Amy Newman Smith’s “Killer Backdrop” (Summer 2014), my initial pleasure was tempered by an increasing sense of discomfort.

In part, the trouble stemmed from my difficulty understanding the exact focus of Ms. Smith’s opprobrium. Does she object to all “new works of Holocaust fiction” because they are not nonfiction? Fair enough. Some people don’t ascribe any value to Holocaust-related fiction; I am not among them. But are there any examples of Holocaust-related fiction that might meet with Ms. Smith’s approval? Novels by the late ArnoŠt Lustig? Cynthia Ozick’s now-classic “The Shawl”?”

You can find the rest of my response–plus the original article and Amy Newman Smith’s response-to-my-response–on the JRB website.

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2 Responses »

  1. I “discovered” the Holocaust in 1962, when I was 12 years old, by reading “Exodus.” It had a tremendous effect on me, a secular Jew who never imagined that millions of my people had been murdered merely because of their religion, as it sunk in that my family too would have been victims if my grandparents hadn’t emigrated to America. For years I sought out books about the Holocaust – Night, the Painted Bird, and Anne Frank’s Diary among the most memorable – but by 1980 I’d stopped.

    Maybe becoming a mother had made me too sensitive, but I could no longer bear another description of the death camps, the packed trains, the gas chambers, and the myriad stories of those who’d somehow survived [or hadn’t]. I knew I wouldn’t forget; I didn’t need to be reminded. I didn’t need a new voice, a new viewpoint. “Genug shoin” – enough already.

    So I tend to agree with Amy Newman Smith. There are far too many mediocre pseudo-survivor memoirs. Yes, many people found love in the ashes, but Holocaust romance as a genre is obscene. But I can also agree with you. If authors don’t keep writing Holocaust fiction, the time may come when no one will remember or know about it. Sometimes it seems that time is almost here.

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