PILGRIM AMONG THE SHADOWS by Boris Pahor

PILGRIM AMONG THE SHADOWS

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A hauntingly evocative wartime memoir by a concentration camp inmate and medic. Published in Slovene in 1967, the book is especially notable for its stark descriptions, eloquently translated here in such passages as, ``When skin turns to parchment and thighs are as thick as ankles, then the mind flickers like a dying battery.'' The survivor-narrator, accompanied by the phantoms of his past, stalks among a group of tourists and their guide who are visiting a concentration camp in the Vosges Mountains where he spent much of the war (he also spent time in Belsen, Harzungen, Dachau, and Natzweiller). Flitting between past and present, the horrific details and the larger issues, Pahor remarks that these camps are ``the outpost of a perished land that extends into infinity.'' He describes the creeping horror of seemingly certain death with the skill of a Poe, yet shares with Hawthorne a brooding sense of survivor's guilt and a self-consciousness about memory, history, and his impossible literary task. The narrator's experiences have gutted his belief in man and God, yet he infuses each step of his painful tour with the religiosity of a pilgrim at a shrine. Most sacred to him is the memory of several medical colleagues and patients who resisted the degradations of hunger, brutality, and disease by various acts of quiet defiance. His own moments of heroism do not alter his feelings of guilt and self-doubt: ``I am alive, and that fact makes my best thoughts insincere, my best feelings impure.'' Pahor does not tell us anything about his life before or after the war, but his narrow focus is justified by this powerful record of the defining years of his life. In an intensely private voice, this ghostly pilgrim succeeds in making readers his confidantes and taking them with him to the place where he lost most of his comrades and much of himself.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-15-171958-6
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994