“Vasily Grossman‘s Life and Fate (New York Review Books Classics) was deemed so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only was the manuscript confiscated – the typewriter ribbons used to type it were taken as well. As Book Haven readers know, I’ve been ploughing through the 880-page epic tale of World War II, which eloquently, powerfully, unforgettably describes the dark forces that shaped the 20th century. […] The author had witnessed the Battle of Stalingrad as a war correspondent, and provided the first eyewitness accounts of an extermination camp, from Treblinka.”

More at Cynthia Haven’s excellent website, The Book Haven.

Alison Flood (The Guardian) traces the term’s history and its current uses in contemporary culture
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A doodle by Franz Kafka

The dictionary defines the adjective, incidentally, as “of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality”. Nightmarish and illogical is also what I’d have taken from a description of something as Kafkaesque, with an insectile undercurrent beneath it all (I don’t think that last bit is right, incidentally, but it’s what the word makes me think of).

But Merriam-Webster also admits that the word, which saw its first recorded use in English in 1946, “is so overused that it’s begun to lose its meaning”, a word that a columnist for Toronto’s Globe and Mail argued is “tossed around with cavalier imprecision, applied to everything from an annoying encounter with a petty bureaucrat to the genocidal horrors of the Third Reich”. [Read More]

Tim Parks (NYRB) reviews the Complete Works of writer, chemist, and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi
Primo Levi was born in 1919 on the fourth floor of an “undistinguished” apartment block in Turin and aside from “involuntary interruptions” continued to live there in the company of his mother until in 1987 he threw himself down the stairwell to his death. The longest interruption was from September 1943 to October 1945 and would provide Levi with the core material for his writing career: it involved three months on the fringe of the partisan resistance to the German occupation, two months in a Fascist internment camp, eleven months in Auschwitz, and a further nine in various Russian refugee camps.

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Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft takes a look for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Roger Ebert examines Claude Lanzmann’s landmark 9-hour documentary about the Holocaust
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Shoah (dir. Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
What is so important about “Shoah” is that the voices are heard of people who did see, who did understand, who did comprehend, who were there, who know that the Holocaust happened, who tell us with their voices and with their eyes that genocide occurred in our time, in our civilization.

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Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Ian Penman (City Journal) writes on the tragic life and enduring influence of the German literary critic

Nearly 75 years ago, at the outset of World War Two, stranded between official borderlines, right on the edge of things, the German Jewish philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin slipped out of life. His passing barely registered beyond a small circle of friends and fellow travelers—habitués, like himself, of severe literary journals, fringe politics, esoteric philosophies. Like that of Benjamin’s own literary heroes, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, his posthumous career was to prove far more lively. These days, anyone tilling the stony fields of literary or political theory would soon find himself persona non grata if he didn’t pay due obeisance to Benjamin—at least, the version of him now favored: the presiding angel over all that is left-leaning, interdisciplinary, and media-studious. (more…)

On Raul Hilberg’s The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian

raulhilberg-thepoliticsofmemory-thejourneyofaholocausthistorian

As a child refugee from Europe at the outset of the Second World War, Raul Hilberg escaped with his parents to Paris, then Cuba, before settling permanently in the United States. This traumatic exile formed the basis of a lifelong preoccupation, by turns both emotional and intellectual, which culminated in the publication of his most noted work: The Destruction of the European Jews. His short 1996 memoir, The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian, tells the story of his life.

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