LONG SHADOWS: Truth, Lies and History

Erna Paris, Author . Bloomsbury $27.50 (495p) ISBN 978-1-58234-156-9

Paris makes an argument that psychologists—and anyone who's spent any time on the couch—will recognize: countries must confront painful historical episodes in order to resolve them. After completing several books on the aftermath of the Holocaust, including Unhealed Wounds, about the trial of Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo in Lyons, the author visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1996, engendering her interest in the worldwide phenomenon of national tragedy, collective memory and its frequent partner in crime, national amnesia. She covers Japan's reckoning with its WWII atrocities, the burgeoning debate over slavery reparations in the U.S., South Africa's post-apartheid reconciliation process and the recent violence in post-Communist Yugoslavia; the Holocaust's legacy comprises the largest section. Paris, a Canadian Jew, offers no easy answers as she examines how "the past is managed to suit the perception of our present needs. The question is, Whose perception and whose needs?" Focusing on the victims and their heirs as well as on the perpetrators and theirs, she explores, among other things, the psychology of shame, guilt, power and disenfranchisement. Paris too often repeats her point that history is "unmasterable," the book's only shortcoming. But after attending trials and interviewing survivors of atrocities around the world, Paris concludes that the painful process of justice is necessary. Otherwise, as in Japan, where the confrontation has been haphazard at best, "Pandora's untamed Furies have been known to wait, forever if necessary, for their next release." Agent, Bruce Westwood. (June)

Forecast: This book has recently been awarded a prestigious Canadian prize, the Pearson Writers' Trust for a work "of the highest literary merit." Part of a growing literature on the aftermath of the 20th century's worst tragedies, it should sell well among readers interested in history and memory.

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Hardcover - 512 pages - 978-0-676-97251-1
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-1-58234-210-8
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