I’ve recently read two new novels about the Holocaust. One, Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure, is a traditional and affecting story that spans generations, starting with a Jack Wiseman, a Jewish American soldier serving in Austria right after WWII. He is put in charge of the Gold Train, a train carrying the possessions of deported Hungarian Jews. Jack takes a piece of jewelry under his care and many years later, asks his granddaughter to try to find its rightful owner and return it. She travels to Hungary and uncovers the fascinating history of the piece. Weaving together stolen art, early psychiatry and tragic love, Waldman draws directly from history to illuminate some unknown facets of the Holocaust.
Peter Mattheiessen’s In Paradise, is, by contrast, a little less straightforward. It’s a meditation on ‘bearing witness’, an exploration of remembrance and response. Clements Olin, a Polish American professor of English, travels to Auschwitz for a weeklong retreat. He and more than a hundred women and men of varying nationalities, ages and beliefs have gathered to meditate at the site, staying in former Nazi quarters. Olins claims that he is there to research the author Tadeusz Borowski, a survivor of Auschwitz, but he has more personal reasons for his journey. Memorable prose and deep reflection characterize Mattheiessen’s last novel.
There are, rightfully, many fiction and non-fiction books that attempt to grapple with the Holocaust and reading and sharing them is one way to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. What books do you recommend?