The clash of fascism and communism on two continents over half a century, as traced through a few family photographs.
At one point, author and award-winning translator Hackl (Argentina’s Angel, 2014, etc.) describes his methodology as “a question-and-answer carousel between here and there: the basic data, rather sparse, not very vivid, without feelings, which our imagination has to supply.” The “our” in the reading of this book is the reader, because even though the elements are tragic, even horrific, the author’s tone remains matter-of-fact and speculative. Hackl is like an investigating detective pursuing a case where all the principals are long dead and the few who remain may be reluctant to talk. The first and longest of these files concerns a family threatened by anti-Semitic Austrian fascism; some of them moved to Brazil only to find a “dictatorship [that] must have seemed like a variant of Austro-fascism with a tropical gloss.” Two of them attempted to return to Austria but found themselves in what seemed like “a permanently provisional arrangement” between the country that was home and the Brazil that had become home. The piece begins and ends with a photo, though “invisible on this picture are the threads linking times and continents.” The second and shortest, “The Photographer of Auschwitz,” tells of the prisoner who was a photographer and was charged with documenting new arrivals, taking as many as 50,000 photos. One of the images became indelible—“four Jewish girls, naked, emaciated until they’re nothing more than skeletons, looking at us with big eyes. Four thirteen-year-olds who are about to die and are immensely ashamed of their nakedness.” Another is “the only cheerful photo from Auschwitz, of a wedding.” The third section also features a wedding photo from a concentration camp: two incarcerated dissidents, only one of whom would survive, and the son who tried to come to terms with their history and his life “in time-lapse photography. Because they are years of repressed memory.”
These powerful inquiries spurred by photos are history made flesh, the untold lives of the mostly forgotten.