SMOKE OVER BIRKENAU by Liana Millu

SMOKE OVER BIRKENAU

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 As its survivors die, so too will the stream of Holocaust testimony. Though narrowing, the trickle continues. This Italian testament has both polish and poetry and strong images of suffering barely borne, but more indelibly it serves as a particular focus into the specially female hell of the camps, what made the woman prisoner different from the man. Displaced, brutalized, sick, dying, the women wretches of Millu's Birkenau lager are as much buoyed as cast down by what remains of their sentimental or family relations: a husband or lover or son perhaps still alive across the fence in the men's camp, Auschwitz; a hidden pregnancy; a sister unforgivably become a whore in the camp's brothel. There is no fake sisterhood or sorority--if anything, the internecine competition is fiercely vocal, sexually cynical--but there is shared attention to the pain of the heart as well as to the body and spirit: These are prisoners who might give over their whole meager ration of daily bread to a camp fortuneteller in hopes of hearing how a loved one fares. The storylike chapters have a professional, even on occasion a melodramatic feel, somewhat disconcerting; but Millu's writerliness is also able to deliver the unforgettable passage from which the book takes its title: ``I remember what Jeanette used to say, watching the dense spirals rise from the crematoria and trail across the sky: the black curls were the souls of the lager's old- timers marching in orderly rows of five toward the kingdom of the merciful God, while the wispy little white curls that drifted and vanished waywardly, the merest puffs, were the souls of children and newcomers who had yet to learn discipline.''

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-0276-0398-3
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991