BOOK REVIEW / Waiting rooms of death: 'Black Milk' - David Hartnett: Jonathan Cape, 9.99
Saturday 27 August 1994
His approach is to look at the penultimate stage of genocide, the concentration of Jews in the ghettoes of Eastern Europe. The process at first appeared to fulfil the goal of 'resettlement to the East'; only then did its victims become aware that itwas to be completed with a second 'resettlement'. Some of them might have been able to deny the intimations of its true nature, but the realisation that it was a one-way process was unavoidable.
Although the ghettoes were the waiting rooms for the death chambers, they were invested with the trappings of miniature states - police, industry, press, culture - all grotesquely distorted to serve the hidden goal of genocide. This is the setting in which Hartnett places his protagonists. A woman from Vienna re-encounters an old lover, who is now a functionary of the puppet Jewish council; her teenage son falls in with the youthful resistance, all the while realising its futility. Over the entire ghetto hangs the probability that efforts of all kinds are equally futile.
Similarly, too, there is an inevitability about the way in which the novel is crushed under its subject, too monstrous and too close to cope with, but also too distant for its author to be able to recall. While it is true that life in the ghettoes is a relatively neglected aspect of the Holocaust, the choice of setting feels more like an answer to a literary problem than to one of historical memory. The forces binding and dividing individuals could have been depicted in the setting of a camp with equal credibility. For the novel, though, the ghetto is liberation. At least the characters and the narrative - effective and well directed in itself - are not obliterated under the all-dominating images of the camps' gates, the railway, the chimneys.
Possibly uniquely, the power of these images has not been diminished by time and familiarity. As time passes, and living memory is extinguished, it probably will be. But its endurance, linked as it is with numerous first-hand testimonies, would seemto imply that the time for literary re- tellings of the Holocaust has not yet arrived.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 2 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields
- 4 Amy Winehouse unpublished 2004 interview: ‘Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby’
- 5 Dutch paedophile club to fight their ban at the European Court of Human Rights
Immigration Street meeting sees local residents demand producers 'go away' and Channel 4 scrap planned series
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous film
Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia