This novel in the form of a memoir recounts the stories of a Holocaust survivor and her daughter.
Toby, born a year after her mother Guta’s release from a concentration camp, knows little of her parents’ experiences. Wanting instead to forget, Guta never talked about those horrible times, and they didn’t want to frighten the little girl. But after Toby’s father dies, she wants to know more; besides, trying to forget has never worked for her mother—“everything, even the good things, forced her to remember it.” The harrowing circumstance are disconcertingly familiar: the increasingly harsh laws, confinement in a ghetto, cruel “selections” that take away family members, degradation, starvation, gas chambers, displacement, chaos, despair; but also the rare helping hand, the piece of luck that turns the balance from death to survival. Familiarity, though, makes this account no less devastating to read; such recognition might even make it that much more devastating. Even time is defined by the horrific circumstances: “increasingly frequent selections and killings [were] the calendar by which we marked time’s passing,” as in, “That was before they took the young women, right?” A twisted sadness underlies everything about Guta’s experiences. When she and her new husband emigrate to Ecuador and struggle to build a life for their young daughter, some chapters give Toby’s point of view, in a fascinating, unusual South American perspective on the survivor experience. Toby, going on to have marriages and children of her own, reflects on the hope that keeps people going. In unraveling her parents’ complicated tragedy, Toby is able to “look at the parade of life on the road” and remember her own son, husband, grandsons, daughter and granddaughter, giving new meaning to a “beautiful selection.”
A powerful, thoughtful novel that takes a long view of the Holocaust and the generations it affected.