Brief Reviews

by Phoebe-Lou Adams

The Diary of
Dawid Sierakowiak

Dawid Sierakowiak was fifteen years old in the summer of 1939, when he had a fine time mountain climbing at a Zionist youth camp. Within a few months Dawid and his family were confined in the Lodz ghetto, the status of his school was confused (much to his distress, for he was an avid student and ranked at the top of his class), and he was writing in his diary that "the prices of meat and lard are becoming more and more unreal. . . . It does not matter to us anyway, since we would not have enough money for these products even if they cost their regular prewar price." It was the beginning of the combination of financial strangulation and slow starvation by which the Nazis reduced the Jews of Lodz to enfeebled slaves before shipping them off to death camps. Dawid's five surviving notebooks provide a precise record of the horror. He recorded rumors, prices, diseases, deportations, and deaths. He scrounged up tutoring jobs for which he was paid in pfennigs or, in one case, very poor soup. As an enthusiastic young Communist, he noted and resented the better conditions available to the managerial class surrounding the Nazi puppet who controlled the ghetto. He reported no acts of heroism and very few of generosity. His own father took to stealing from the family's inadequate food supply. Hunger and the search for work are constant themes, but through all the misery Dawid maintained his interest in public affairs and his intellectual ambitions. In March of 1943 he was offered a job (presumably unpaid) "translating one of Lenin's books from Yiddish to Polish," and "took it willingly." In April, despite the promise of life-sustaining work in a bakery, he admitted to "beginning to fall into melancholy." He died in August, officially of tuberculosis. The death certificate survives. Dawid's diaries are a terrifying record, all the more so because of the observant intelligence that persisted through life in a man-made hell. Mr. Adelson's notes are thorough and often indispensable for understanding what the diarist had no reason to explain.

With Persephone

Ms. Storace's account of a year spent in Greece combines past and present, legend and fact, direct reportage and subtle reflection, in an unusual and delightful whole. Her book goes well beyond the travel genre in penetrating a country balancing resentfully between Europe and Asia, where the ghost of Alexander the Great is entangled with the "Macedonia question," the rules laid down by the European Union threaten to produce "a situation in which Greeks can't afford to live in Greece," and the inhabitants of modern buildings regularly consult dream books. This is a splendid book about a wonderfully varied and ambivalent country that does not deserve its self-invented joke: Every country has a cross to bear -- England has weather, Greece has Greeks.

Raw Creation:
Outsider Art and

By the mid nineteenth century doctors who were developing humane treatment of the insane had begun to take an interest in the artwork of their patients. Their initial objective was to achieve a better understanding for therapeutic purposes, but the inescapable power of some of the productions led to appreciation and collection. Books were written, and one such fell into the hands of the artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), who, already fascinated by Dada and surrealism, became an enthusiastic advocate of art derived directly from the unconscious mind -- "works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture," in which "the spirit has free rein once again." Dubuffet called such works Art Brut, and extended the term to include any work that was untrammeled by conventional training or orthodox academic standards. Mr. Maizels calls it Outsider Art, and his book presents a dazzling display of the strange, the disturbing, and the unique. Outsider artists belong to no schools, follow no fashions, submit to no influences, and invent their own techniques. Their only discernible common characteristic is a superb indifference to anything but their own vision. Mr. Maizels's factual text is accompanied by quotations that are often as amazing as the works they purport to explain. One may not enjoy every item reproduced in this book, but visual excitement and intellectual provocation are abundant.

Presented by

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

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