"The best historians...take a thorough knowledge of the evidence of their subject and combine it with a sharp intellect, the warmest understanding of people and the highest imaginative powers."
I first started this book last March and had to re-start in about a month and a half ago because I couldn't remember where I left off. It was also one of the seven books I got for Christmas last year. The novel was over 600 pages and it took me about a month and a half to finish once I started it again. It is an epic novel that intertwines a survivor's account of the holocaust with modern-day characters and story-lines and a wonderful testimony to the importance of oral and first-hand accounts of history.
I first got really interested in the holocaust and World War II sometime in early high school. I don't exactly remember why exactly, I have always liked history and historical fiction and found the time period to be extremely interesting. The holocaust was a horrific event and is often very hard to read about, but I became fascinated with personal accounts of those involved and learning about how people survived these unthinkable tragedies. In high school, my senior portfolio centered around music in the holocaust and in music college music history course, I wrote a paper about this as well. It focused on the children's opera Brundibar that was produced and performed by prisoners at Theresienstadt, a concentration camp that was used for Nazi propaganda and contained many prominent Jewish musicians, writers, artists, and scholars. I've completed a lot of extensive research and try to read as many books on the subject as a I can (you can see my complete list here).
That being said, Elliot Perlman's portrayal of the Nazi death camps and gas chambers were the most graphic I have ever read. The author gave a great amount of detail on the procedures of death camps. The descriptive and graphic language created an simple comparison between the camps and factories - which, essentially it was. A factory solely designed for killing as many people as possible. I guess I was just being naive, but I did not give much thought to what happened to the prisoners once they entered the gas chambers. I guess I just assumed that they were killed instantly. And while this was a tragedy in itself, it was nothing compared to the pain and suffering that they had to endure in the minutes before their deaths.
This was a great story, but it had A LOT of different characters and story lines: a ex-convect searching for his daughter, a elderly holocaust survivor, a historian on the verge of losing his career and relationship, a psychologist research personal accounts of concentration camp survivors in the mid 1940s - just to name a few. While all of these stories ultimately fit together, there was a lot going on and a lot of keep track of. Normally I don't mind lots of complicated story lines, but the author seemed to go back and forth between each one around every other page. I might have to read this one again because I feel like I missed some important detaiils while trying to keep everything straight!
This book was #8 on my top ten list of 2013.