The Memory Monster

Yishai Sarid, trans. from the Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan. Restless, $20 (176p) ISBN 978-1-63206-271-0
In this scathing, ruminative tale of a historian turned guide to concentration camps, Sarid (The Third) considers the way Israel deals with the Holocaust. The unnamed narrator leaves his family behind for months at a time to lead tours for Israeli high school students, soldiers, and dignitaries at concentration camps in Poland. Poland is shabby and depressing, but Auschwitz, he says, always impresses: “The branding does its job.” The narrator’s story is framed as a letter to his boss about an incident he was involved in during a tour, when he punched a guest, and the letter becomes a record of a breakdown, an impassioned consideration of memory and its risks, and a critique of Israel’s use of the Holocaust to shape national identity. Why, he wonders, do he and the students find themselves admiring the Nazis? Why is it so easy to scapegoat the Polish—no heroes, certainly, but not the masterminds either? And why do the students wrap themselves in Israeli flags and sing the national anthem at Auschwitz? The narrator turns over these questions as family responsibilities pull him back to Israel. Sarid’s unrelenting examination of how narratives of the Holocaust are shaped makes for much more than the average confessional tale. (Sept.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misspelled the author's last name.

Reviewed on : 07/13/2020
Release date: 09/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
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