String Hebrew-language chicken tags together, and you’ll discover that the word “kosher” spells “Jew” sideways. So this brilliantly conceived child’s-eye view of the Shoah generation reveals—to name just one mystery unraveled.
The faux-naïve drawing that accompanies the revelation in Torontonian artist/editor/writer Eisenstein’s debut book, incidentally, proves that point, just as the other drawings in this richly illustrated graphic book open windows on a world once very much in danger of disappearing. The adult Eisenstein, who turns up from time to time to remark on her younger self, has the language and self-awareness to consider herself something of a “Jewish Sisyphus, pushing history and memory uphill, wondering what I’m supposed to be.” Her younger self wonders about other things: her mother’s worries and fears, her father’s anger. At eight years old, she is introduced to The Diary of Anne Frank and falls under the spell of the swastika, asking her sister how to draw one, as if daring to conjure up the devil; when the devil does not appear, she and her sister agree on one thing: to keep the whole thing a secret from their parents. Her father has secrets, too, even a semi-secret life centered on poker, for here, he is a Hall of Fame master of the art of korten shpiling. Her mother has memories carefully kept hidden, which she unveils in a surprising tape-recorded interview for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. “You’d think if you put people together in such terrible conditions, they would eat each other up,” she recalls. “No—we fed ourselves with white lies of hope.” Page after page, anecdote after sketch, Eisenstein teases out an affecting portrait.
Like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, with which it is likely to be compared (and hold up well in the bargain), Eisenstein’s memoir is an ultimately hopeful act, enshrining ordinary people so that they will not be forgotten, wrinkles and warts and secrets and all.