The man in the concentration camp at Belsen

BelsinThere are an awful lot of them. There really are huge numbers of dead. Seven million Jews have been exterminated—transported in cattle cars, the gassed in specially built gas chambers, then burned in specially built ovens. In Paris, people don’t talk about the Jews yet. Their infants were handed over to female officials responsible for the strangling of Jewish babies and experts in the art of killing by applying pressure on the carotid arteries. They smile and say it’s painless. This new face of death that has been discovered in Germany—organized, rationalized—produces bewilderment before it arouses indignation. You’re amazed. How can anyone still be a German? You look for parallels elsewhere and in other times, but there aren’t any.

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Call It Sleep

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth is a big book but fairly easy reading. It is about an immigrant family in New York around the turn of the last century. It focuses on the young son but the mother, father, and extended family are also important in reflecting the period and the Jewish heritage. I enjoyed reading Call It Sleep so much I searched around the State Library System and found a copy of Roth’s much later work, Mercy of a Rude Stream.

My pleasant experience reading this novel was strange for two reasons:  first, the dialogue was just what you’d expect from immigrant persons with little education tossed into the strange melting pot of America, and New York in particular, and second, this was a direct narrative without many of the rudimentary nuances of modernism. My usual fare is more involved with multi-layered narratives, time-skipping, bodily fluids, lack of punctuation, and willing dispensation of belief … but Roth made the traditional novel work for me. (There were small elements of stream-of-consciousness and similar narrative techniques but I saw them as inherent in the narrative and not chosen for their literariness).

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