Monday, April 6, 2015

Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub

This was a really interesting perspective on Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren.  The book is by a Brazilian author and translated from the Portuguese.  It is written in the form of a diary written by the grandson of a survivor and it tracks both the events of his life and those of his father (who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease) and his grandfather (who died when his father was 14).

The story starts with the actual fall - although the trajectory of all 3 men's lives could certainly be seen as symbolic falls.  The author is at a 13th birthday party of one of his few non-Jewish classmates.  The classmate's mother died when he was young and he is being raised by a father who is working two jobs in order to make ends meet and who sacrificed everything to give his son this party to help him fit in.  In front of all of the boys friends and family, his classmates, including the narrator, give him the bumps and agree to drop him at the end.  He is seriously injured, ending up in the hospital and then therapy for months.  Because of his guilt, the narrator confesses to the school, alienating all of his other friends, and befriends the injured boy - even going so far as to change to a non-Jewish school with him the following year.  At the new school the narrator becomes the outsider and by the end of the year is no longer talking to the injured boy as they each hit at each other's weak spots - the narrator's grandfather's internment in Auschwitz and the other boy's dead mother.  This rift leads the narrator to turn to alcohol and to a big fight with his father where for the first and only time he is told the details of his grandfather's death and learns why this haunts his father.

The diary structure of the book is really interesting.  There are no page numbers and each chapter is broken into tiny numbered paragraphs which does help the book move quickly despite the heavy subject matter.  We also learn that the grandfather kept a detailed diary in the years before his death and the father started a diary when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's so the book is in fact the third generation diary.  The style is also interesting in that certain words, phrases and even paragraphs are repeated, but then new twists are added so that the whole story is ultimately revealed by the end.

This is a really fascinating study in the lasting impact Auschwitz had not only on the survivors but on their children and even grandchildren.  I had also never seen it told from the perspective of a family who emigrated to Brazil - though the similarities with stories of those who ended up in Israel or North America are striking.

I definitely recommend this book

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