Summer reading: Holocaust literature

During my recent vacation, I read two Holocaust books. “Fateless” by the late Hungarian Imré Kertesz, and “Love and Treasure,” by American Ayelet Waldman. They both lean heavily on Hungary, its devastated people, its war-torn landscape.

Perhaps selecting those two books off my nightstand while preparing my luggage for the eight-day National Parks journey wasn’t the best idea. But then again, there was something prescient in my choice. The Holocaust landscape -- and its aftermath -- is defined by desolation. The landscape of the American Southwest -- and the 100+℉ temperatures that plagued us while touring it -- is so desolate, as well.

The National Parks themselves exude beauty beyond words. But the geography in which they exist is stark, austere, brutally punished by time and natural phenomena. While staring into the depths of the Grand Canyon, viewing the desolation surrounding Bryce National Park, experiencing the searing heat at Lake Powell and within Glen Canyon, observing the lunar landscape of the Painted Desert and Monument Valley, I couldn’t help but reflect on the authors’ descriptions of Auschwitz and Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt.

“Fateless” -- somewhat autobiographical -- is told through the eyes of a rather detached 14-year-old Hungarian Jewish boy who just wants to do right by his elders. Once he’s plucked from Budapest and trained to Auschwitz, and then to a number of other camps, his aim isn’t necessarily survival -- though he does survive the war -- but to be pleasing to the adults he encounters, particularly to his captors. Because Georg is merely a young teen, the reader -- like Georg himself -- is left guessing the roles of various people whom he encounters. Who is the Communist? Who the homosexual? Who the Gypsy? What is the disease turning so many captives yellow? What indeed is the ungodly smell he encounters at Auschwitz when the crisp wind shifts?

“Love and Treasure,” by contrast, is a novel that occurs entirely after the war. The author herself said she set out to write a book about the Holocaust that did not occur during it. Told through Jack, an American captain who is only loosely tied to his Jewish roots, the book describes the literal and emotional post-war landscape encountered by the Jewish Holocaust survivors; their captors; the quotidien Hungarians, Romanians, and Ukrainians who weren’t pleased to see their wasted Jewish brethren return from the camps; the early Zionists; and the American soldiers sent to liberate the camps and deal with the legions of post-war displaced persons.

Why, in a blog post for 2B Writing Company, am I essentially reviewing two very different Holocaust books? And how can I possibly compare the horror of 1940s Europe to the contemporary American Southwest and the natural treasures within our National Parks System that this year celebrates its 100th anniversary? Because the Holocaust landscape that two very different authors generated in my mind’s eye and the bereft, barren landscape throughout parts of Arizona, Utah, and Nevada that I saw with my own eyes are conjured with words in myriad ways. I’ve enumerated but three of them here: Kertesz’s, Waldman’s, and my own. Writing -- storytelling -- is all about point of view. And it all can be powerful. Whether an interesting press release, a gripping article, a convincing business story, or a fascinating profile. 2Bs has this power. Check us out.

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