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A Memoir

by Thomas Keneally

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-385-52617-3
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday

Keneally (A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia, 2006, etc.) chronicles the conception, birth and rich afterlife of his most celebrated work.

The Australian author is a genial, unaffected companion in this leisurely voyage around Schindler’s List (1982), which began with a broken briefcase in California. Stopping in a leather-goods store in 1980, Keneally met proprietor Leopold Pfefferberg, who always insisted the author call him Poldek. Learning that his customer was a writer, Poldek told Keneally about Oskar Schindler, who had saved both him and his wife during the Holocaust. He insisted that this story would win Keneally the Nobel Prize and any filmmaker an Oscar. (So far, he has proved half-right.) The author reveals that he was initially reluctant to take on the project, being a non-Jew and a non-European who knew only the basics about World War II, but notes that Poldek insisted these were virtues. Soon, Keneally was caught up in the story, interviewing Holocaust survivors and traveling to Poland to see the remains of the Warsaw ghetto, the camps at Auschwitz and myriad relevant sites. He was intrigued by the moral ambiguity embodied by Schindler, who saved many Jews but also profited from the labor of enslaved people and had, to put it mildly, a relaxed sexual code. Keneally chronicles the publication of the book, which indeed became the bestseller Poldek fiercely believed it would be. In prose so clear it glistens, he describes working on early drafts of the screenplay with Steven Spielberg (who eventually, gently, fired him) and the production of the film, much of which he observed. President Clinton attended the 1993 premiere, and the movie won seven Academy Awards. Keneally’s narrative ends sadly, with the deaths of his father and Poldek.

An essential companion to the original novel.