Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Review of 'The Memory Monster' by Yishai Sarid

Holocaust studies have been mandatory in Israeli high schools since the 1980s and 11th graders are regularly taken on educational trips to the German extermination camps in Poland. According to a study of "Shoah Education in Israeli State Schools 2007-2009" presented by Bar Ilan University, "The journey to Poland is among the most important and effective aspects of Shoah education, highly valued by students, teachers and school principals."

But what about the long-term effects of these journeys on those who guide the students through the camps? Are they able to bear the emotional burden of walking under the iconic Arbeit macht frei sign at Auschwitz's gate time and time again? 

The subject of Holocaust education from the viewpoint of concentration camp tour guides is at the center of The Memory Monster by Yishai Sarid, translated by Yardenne Greenspan (Restless Books, September 2020). The short, but powerful novel raises the question of how far we let the horrors of the past infiltrate our present day lives.

The book's narrative is presented as a report by a nameless historian to the chairman of Yad Vashem, the official representative of Holocaust memory in Israel. The report details the historian's career, how he at first considered Holocaust studies a burden and thought himself immune to the emotional stress. The historian prepared his PhD dissertation on the process of Nazis' extermination techniques—a topic covering the details of mass murder, gas chambers, and crematoriums—while supporting himself and his family by guiding high school students in Poland.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Review of “The Tunnel” by A. B. Yehoshua

In the opening scene of The Tunnel by A. B. Yehoshua, translated by Stuart Schoffman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2020), Zvi Luria, a retired road engineer, is diagnosed with an atrophy in the frontal lobe of his brain. One of the first symptoms of Zvi’s incipient dementia is that first names are escaping him. And then he can’t remember the ignition code for his car. And when asked to pick up his grandchild from kindergarten, he takes home the wrong child.

Luria’s wife Dina, a pediatrician with health problems of her own, encourages Zvi to volunteer as an unpaid assistant on an engineering project “so that he could, on the advice of the neurologist, fight better, with the help of roads, interchanges, and tunnels, against the atrophy gnawing away at his brain.” Luria joins Asael Maimoni, the son of a former colleague, and the two of take on a project of planning a “secret road in the desert.”

The Israeli army has asked for a road in Ramon Crater, but it is unclear where this road will lead to. The one thing that is clear is that a “hill resembling a flattened cone” is in the way. The engineers could suggest bulldozing their way through the hill, but there is a problem. An archaeological ruin sits atop the hill and a family has taken up residence there.

The squatters, it turns out, are “West Bank Palestinians whose identity became confused.” They have no home to return to, and no future awaits them. The solution for the engineering team? Dig a tunnel through the hill.

Monday, September 7, 2020

"At the Bank" - a short story in 101 words


Back in April, when we were only beginning to understand how far, and how fast the pandemic would spread, I discovered a website soliciting 101-word stories. I wondered if I was capable of writing a story that short that could in some way express what was happening all around us.

The result was "At the Bank". I submitted it to 101 Words in April and apparently they lost the submission. I only received a rejection note now, 5 months later, but I think the story is still valid today. Here is the story and what they said in the rejection letter. (It was quite unusual to get an on-the-spot critique, instead of an impersonal form letter!)


At the Bank

A masked man walked into a bank early Friday morning. He was not there to rob, or to take hostages. He had come to withdraw hard-earned savings. He had waited in line patiently, keeping his distance from those ahead. When the guard finally allowed him in, he hurried to the counter, his eyes slightly lowered in embarrassment. After he stated his request, the teller punched a few keys, looked at a screen, and opened a cash drawer. Bills were counted and handed over, the man bowed in wordless thanks, and left. The teller shook his head and adjusted his own mask.


The rejection letter:

Overall, the current environment makes a situation like a bank customer closing their account an out of the ordinary situation. However, the main issue that I have with this story is that this situation just seems like an ordinary task, even with the Covid-19 kicking around. These are situations that bank tellers deal with all the time. If there was something unique that a bank teller happened to be involved in, it would be a different story.

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Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash.