I first heard of this book when the author was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio in August 1997. The author is the child of Holocaust survivors. While the book is called a novel, it seems as if it must be highly autobiographical.
The book, written in the first person, captures perfectly the family interactions and angst of a girl growing up during the 60's in New York as the daughter of survivors. The title refers to her father's obsession with filming family events, with preserving the memories of the holocaust and those who perished, and the author's own unvarnished memories of her family and her dead mother.
I think it is best to let the book speak for itself, so I'll quote a few paragraphs where, the protagonist's father is trying to deal with his memories, after his extended family has been reciting an apparently familiar litany of stories about the good and bad goyim.
"-cynicism?" he snapped, shifting his weight.
I rose out of my crouch, and sat beside Emily on the porch swing.
"How can you expect to be cured of cynicism" he continued "when you listen to such stories over and over and know that they only get worse before they get better? How can you expect anything good to happen when you know that you are not hearing these stories for the first time, but living them out every night of your life, imagining you're back there, wanting out with no way out, thinking only of your hunger, which is just like a wild animal? How can you forget that once you were a wild animal who could kill another person for a single piece of bread?" Raging he paled in horror. "How do you stop feeling sorrow, Tsenyeh, when you know that the only reason you stayed alive was to show the Germans with their mad dogs and killing machines that they couldn't kill you-only to realize that by surviving you discovered that the worst joke was on yourself? Tell me, Tsenyeh, how can you let yourself feel again, when you know that pain has become all feeling? How can you feel when you're so numb you can't distinguish pain from joy!"
"Narishkeit, Raphael," my Tante insisted, "I don't know what you are talking about."
"Freedom is a prison!" he shouted with such force his voice cracked with the strain. "No matter how hard you try, you can't escape your past! Help me, Tsenyeh, because I can't help myself!" Biting his lip, he started to cry.
Kneeling beside him, I hugged his ankles and handed him a tissue, Something was melting inside me, something deep and dark without explanation.
I found that the author has the remarkable ability to evoke the pain, love and fear of these survivors and their children, still struggling to survive long after their liberation. However, the accounts, of the narrator's present day wonderfully successful life at the beginning and end of the book, ring a bit hollow relative to the gritty honesty of the rest of the book. I found the book gave me an insight into the families of friends who grew up under similar conditions. I can heartily recommend reading "The Rescue Of Memory".
- Bob Evans
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