N O V E M B E R 1 9 9 6
by Phoebe-Lou Adams
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The Diary of
edited by Alan Adelson,
translated by Kamil Turowski.
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.
by Patricia Storace.
Pantheon, 416 pages,
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.
Outsider Art and
by John Maizels
Phaidon, 240 pages, $69.95.
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.
Difficulties of a
by Ted Hughes
Picador, 159 pages, $20.00.
Mr. Hughes, the poet laureate of England, prefaces his collection of
short stories with an explanation of their origins and the years in which they
were written. The satirical fantasy "O'Kelly's Angel," for example, was
composed when "the troubles of Northern Ireland were dormant." It could not
decently be written today. Other stories are related in various ways to Mr.
Hughes's poetry, but familiarity with that poetry is not necessary for the
reader to follow the patterns of eeriness and endurance that connect the tales.
Those connections are loose and not necessarily advantageous.
Anna O.: A Century
by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen.
Routledge, 125 pages,
The case of Anna O., a young woman whose hysterical symptoms
once she recalled and described the traumatic incident that caused them,
figures large in the Freudian psychiatric method. Both Sigmund Freud and Josef
Breuer, Anna's doctor, vouched for the spectacular cure. Mr. Borch-Jacobsen,
after ploughing through "the labyrinth of archives, purloined letters, gossip,
and rumor known as Freud studies," maintains that the case is a myth and offers
persuasive evidence in support of his heresy. His book is an entertaining
exercise in irreverent detection, regardless of one's position on Freud.
To the Hilt
by Dick Francis
Putnam, 320 pages, $24.95.
Alexander Kinloch, the narrator of Mr. Francis's latest thriller, is a
chronically disheveled artist who asks only to be left unmolested on a Scottish
mountain with his paints and his bagpipes. He is, however, the nephew of an
earl, and although the family castle is being mismanaged by the state and no
Kinloch has swung a claymore for centuries, the ancestral spirit survives. When
Alexander is beset by thugs, a brewery, and dubiously legal shenanigans with a
horse, he responds as to the fiery cross. The tale starts with a bang and ends
with a crash, both highly satisfactory.
A World Lost
by Wendell Berry.
Counterpoint, 160 pages,
Mr. Berry's middle-aged narrator recalls the semi-rural paradise
of his childhood, shattered by a murder that haunted his family forever after. The
novel is a portrayal, at once delicate and acute, of unpretentiously fine
people coping with a very bad business. Mr. Berry writes elegantly,
effortlessly balancing tragedy and a quiet, sly humor.
Mr. Theroux has developed the what-if? fantasy of another life
into a novel about exactly that -- his own imaginary life as a wandering literary man
with a sideline in teaching and a talent for the inadvertent collection of Potiphar's
wives. The episodic tale begins in an African leper colony and ends with a box
of "personal effects," and it is interesting, sometimes acid, reading all the
Houghton Mifflin, 456 pages,
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; November 1996; Brief Reviews; Volume 278, No. 5;