BLACK MILK by David Hartnett


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 An earnest, overwritten first novel from British poet Hartnett, this set in a fictional Jewish ghetto during WW II. Hartnett's relentlessly bleak tale begins with the surviving members of the Schultz family being transported from Vienna to a city near the Eastern front where the Nazis are congregating Jews before sending them off to concentration camps. Alicia Schultz, a strong-willed widow, must find ways to take care of her temperamental 15-year-old son, as well as a mystical half-uncle and a frail grandmother. When Alicia reaches the ghetto, she immediately meets Josef, a former lover who just happens to be one of the Jewish functionaries entrusted by the Nazis to help with administration. The kindhearted Josef tries to protect the ghetto's religious leaders while also keeping a secret record of everything the Nazis are doing and a journal of how the Jews are keeping their spirit alive. Being in charge of keeping lists of everyone, Josef is able to protect Alicia. Although collaborating, he believes that's the best way to save Jews from the camps. Alicia's son, however, wants to fight more openly and is drawn to the underground resistance movement. This naturally causes stress when Josef marries Alicia to further protect the Schultz family. Written at a high pitch, Hartnett's debut is weighed down by the constant dread and fatigue of the oppressed--an understandable state that, sadly, isn't shown through authentic-sounding characters but, rather, is hammered at through overwrought prose (``The flame hissed its death against her wetted fingertips''). A noble if disappointing effort filled with the familiar--and with a mere echo of the many authentically emotional chronicles of the Holocaust already in existence.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-224-03972-5
Page count: 262pp
Publisher: Jonathan Cape/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995