Posts tagged “crimes against humanity

Two Holocaust Novels

Recently I picked up the latest Jodi Picoult novel, The Storyteller. I actually am not much of a Picoult fan, but I find her books reasonably compelling–something decent to whip through in a day. the real problem i have is that Picoult always saves One Big Twist, and once you’ve read a couple of her books you can guess the twist.

But anyway, I liked this new book much more than I’ve liked any of her more recent books. (SPOILERS)

i’m going to ignore the parts that felt much more typical–girl meets boy etc, quarterlife crisis, blah blah blah). the part that i felt was an interesting choice on Picoult’s part was to use some of the chapters in a first-world account of being a Nazi. I found this part incredibly compelling. Gut wrenching and rage making and also compelling. There’s also a narrative of a camp survivor, which was exactly as horrifying and depressing and soul-crushing as you expect. Picoult clearly did her research, and there were details in both of these narratives that I certainly was unaware of. So it was certainly not the sort of light reading I associate with Picoult. It was, instead, well….draining. But I want to say that I really respect Picoult for writing such a book. It’s true taht WWII has been written about a lot, but equally true that there are still Holocaust deniers out there, and quite honestly I think it’s a good idea for popular fiction to include descriptions of this atrocity.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is a much different book, told entirely through letters–a concept I often dislike–and it is much lighter. Quite honestly it was a relief. Ever since I read the two books I have been super into WWII, and I listened to some podcasts and a book on tape and now I am watching a documentary, and after this this is going to have be it for me for awhile.

I remain fascinated by the complicity of everyday Germans–SS soldiers and citizens–in the wholesale massacre of other human beings. I think this is the part of the Holocaust that we all find fascinating and terrifying, because it gets to the very fundamental question of humanity. As I was reading especially the narrative “by a Nazi” in Picoult’s book I kept thinking that the asshole should just say NO for gods sake, stop being such a horrible person, etc etc. I wish that I could say that I know for sure that I would not have participated. But I can’t know that. I don’t think anyone can. I suppose I am as sure as I could be that I wouldn’t have participated–but I also know that it is impossible to say that completely. You never know, outside of context, what anyone will do. You cannot.  I think that is part of what leaves the Holocaust so full of ongoing mystery. It is so frustrating to listen to the news on any given day and here about the other mass murders still happening; and yet, sometimes it seems as though isolationism vs interventionism will never be resolved. There is a huge part of me that believes firmly that it is totally unethical to just stand by, and for that reason alone Roosevelt will never be a good President to me. And yet we have seen evidence that outside intervention sometimes makes things worse.

Well. I think what we are learning is that I clearly do not have any good, clear answers. Basically, sometimes people are evil, and sometimes people are complicit in atrocities, and sometimes the rest of us have no good options.