Pensive portrait of a man struggling to find a place in the world after enduring transformative calamity.
“To write poetry after Auschwitz,” wrote the German literary critic Theodore Adorno, “is barbaric.” But what of those who lived through Auschwitz? Just to live, to say nothing of writing, is problematic. So thinks the protagonist of survivor Adler’s novel, the last in a trilogy, the preceding two volumes of which were published out of order a half-century ago. There is the sheer guilt of being alive when so many died, and then there are the memories, the past that “hisses in my ears, causes horrible and sometimes also multiple sensations, pressing into me, lifting me, holding ready a thousand horrors….” Arthur Landau has lived. At the beginning of the 1960s, he's living in London, beginning to trust his neighbors a little, even though he and his family are the definitive strangers: “[T]he few people who know something about us are no less than an hour away.” The welcome trade-off, Landau says, is that no one bothers him, though the thought is always with him that he could just as easily disappear from the street with no one noticing or caring, as before. Landau’s world is one of memories that sometimes become very real—if only in his mind, though it’s not always easy for him or for readers to distinguish the real from the imagined, as with his Dostoyevski-an encounter with an “Assessor of Sympathies.” Landau’s disconnection is more affecting, and more open to the reader’s sympathy, than that of the protagonist of Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé, which has a similarly strident quality; Adler’s novel has a Kafkaesque dimension as well, save that Landau has at least the saving grace of an understanding wife who does what she can to make him feel safe, or at least safer, in the world: “She was happy to see,” Landau tells us, “that I had achieved a partial and tolerable sense of resignation.”
An eloquent record of suffering—and perhaps of redemption as well.