Village of a Million Spirits: A Novel of the Treblinka Uprising

Ian MacMillan, Author Steerforth Press $24 (260p) ISBN 978-1-883642-84-6
It stands to reason that accounts of the Holocaust--whether fiction or nonfiction--will be wrenching evocations of brutality and unspeakable suffering. Nearly every book on the subject, no matter its literary merit, possesses a certain dignity and power. When a book like this one appears, however--it's the third volume of a trilogy MacMillan began in Proud Monster and Orbit of Darkness--it must be acknowledged as a new benchmark in Holocaust literature, distinguished by unflinching fidelity to truth, unsparing immediacy and literary resonance. MacMillan's achievement, in this account of the events that led to the (ultimately tragic) revolt of inmates at the Treblinka concentration camp in August 1943, is to convey the particularity of the near-unimaginable horrors through several leading characters, as well as the universality of such struggle through the documentation of the torture and death of at least one million souls. Reading it, one is enveloped in dread, horrified by details of slaughter, immersed in the emotions of its characters and compelled by the tension of observing captors and victims in a horrifying world. A series of highly charged, kaleidoscopic vignettes--of bewildered Jewish arrivals herded directly into the gas chambers, of Jewish workers forced to categorize, transport and search through bodies, of Nazi and Ukrainian guards and residents of the nearby Polish village--links the several main characters. The intensity of MacMillan's compressed prose humanizes the desperate lives he holds up to our gaze. This book's graphic descriptions--the odor of putrifying bodies when boxcars are finally opened, ""the subtle, glistening movement of worms"" in folds of skin, the stench of the roasting pits where corpses are burned, the depravity of Nazis who smile as they execute--is sometimes nearly unbearable. And yet not to read about it seems almost a crime. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 257 pages - 978-0-14-029033-2
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