Scapegoats of the European tribe

The Nature of Blood by Caryl Phillips, Faber, pounds 15.99 Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, Bloomsbury, pounds 15.99

Anne Frank lives on in these pages. We recognise her in the guise of Eva Stern, survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen, a broken young woman who speaks to her dead mother. She has lost so much - family, youth, her very flesh - that she seems like a ghost nurtured on memories. The gift of a lipstick from a fellow survivor who believes in "a new life for all of us" enrages her, for "to move on is to forget; to forget is a crime".

Eva's voice is the most moving of all those we hear in this novel's collection of fictional characters made real. She speaks as an outsider not only because she is a Jew and an orphan and later a foreigner in England, but because the Nazis denied her humanity, made her a stranger to herself.

The tragedy of Othello, the other major voice here, is that he has lost sight of his identity. An African with royal blood who was once a slave, he is only accepted by Venetian society because of his military skills. His marriage to a white woman will come to grief because he is "a sad black man, first in a long line of so-called achievers who are too weak to yoke their past with their present".

Phillips, who described Jews as the "niggers of Europe" in his travel book The European Tribe, tries hard to make connections between Jews' and Black people's experiences of oppression. Eva and Othello share the novel with 15th-century Jewish usurers accused of killing a Christian boy and using his blood to make matzos, and Malka, a young Falasha woman brought from the Ethiopian desert to the ghettos of Israel.

In the last chapter, Eva's uncle, once a member of the Jewish underground in Palestine and now a retired doctor, meets Malka at a club where young women are paid to dance with lonely elderly men. In old age, beset by memories of his family lost in the Holocaust, he needs a companion, and she wants to escape the cramped life of her family.

Before he noticed her, no one asked her to dance, and even he worries that his friends will see him with a black woman. Spirited away from her home, she is never made welcome in the "promised land". Like Othello, she and her people have lost their bearings.

It is an uneasy meeting for the doctor, and for the novel. With the Black Jews in Israel, Phillips suggests not only a confluence of identities but the oppression of those who become the "other". This seems an easy irony, a convenient, contrived coda to stories about the persecution of Jews and Blacks. The doctor's memory of Eva and her sister Margot too neatly wraps up the novel; we begin and end with him yet his is not a strong enough voice to join up all the others.

Perhaps it is impossible to unite narratives and voices remote from each other, to reach any resolution of Philips' questions about identity, guilt and oppression. His expository paragraphs about Venice and Othello, meant as ironic commentary, seem pretentious. Even the thoughts of a doctor who treats Eva, though perceptive, are an intrusion into our understanding of her life.

Yet many of the connections Phillips makes between characters are subtle and interesting. Both Eva and Malka are led astray by promises of a new life. Othello's shame at leaving his family is mirrored by Malka's estrangement from her parents and Eva's survivor's guilt.

What finally sustains the book is Eva's voice. Her numbed recollections of the camps, her fantasies in which past and present merge, show us that memories may destroy us but we cannot live without them: "If only I had a photograph, so that people could see who I was." WB

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?