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A Kaddish for History: Holocaust Memory in Ehud Havazelet's Bearing the Body (Critical Essay)

Studies in American Jewish Literature, 2010, Annual, 29

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When Sol Mirsky, Holocaust survivor and bereft father, in Ehud Havazelet's novel Bearing the Body, wonders "what world is this?," readers are made painfully aware of the collapse of time that prevents a stable demarcation between then and now, between a pre- and post-Holocaust universe (108). Instead, the past collides with the present, moving it aside for the real time of memory, which takes hold in dizzying moments of disorientation and spatial confusion, inchoate fragments of despair, what Havazelet calls "shards refracting no more than their miserable incompleteness" (133). Sol Mirsky, shattered by his past, no longer recognizable even to himself, in his attempts to navigate an uneasily positioned post-Holocaust world, finds himself not so much thrust back in time but contained there, frozen in time, enshrouded in a past that blurs not only the temporality of the present, but the linearity of narrative as well. If history is narrative, then the Holocaust breaks the sequential unfolding of time and space, leaping generations, returning reiteratively to the point of traumatic, arresting origin. As Sol's oldest son Daniel sorely acknowledges, for his parents, Holocaust survivors, time is not a story with a conveniently reassuring procession of beginnings and endings. Theirs does not take on a "story's consoling shape," but consists rather of a succession of chronic, unremitting fragments of memory, shards of time, the sharp edges of narrative and broken ends of history: "a night, a year, a terrible mistaken instant, never ending, its term never elapsed--and they, trapped inside like insects in amber" (132). Theirs is a life narrated in fragments, but fragments of narrative made into a life, a grave bequest to the next generation, a behest from the grave "to take memory in the body and carry it, forever" (242). For surely we have learned in the disposition of time since the Holocaust that the irreversible memory of events is not contained in the individual histories of those who survived the atrocities. Rather, the memories of the Holocaust--the intractable fact of the Holocaust--are carried over, witnessed anew, by subsequent generations, generations for whom the Holocaust, despite the elliptically cryptic silence that often surrounds it, has, from the very beginning, indelibly formed and informed the lives of the second- and third-generation, a past that, as one of Havazelet's characters in the short story "To Live in Tiflis in the Springtime" puts it, "seeped across the walls and floor. It was no longer something to be recalled from a distance--it was there in front of him, to walk into if he dared" (239). These are generations who must bear the weight of history, generations for whom consciousness of the Holocaust has been entrusted, if reluctantly and despairingly so--even in the ellipses of silence. As a kind of cautionary midrash, Havazelet's Bearing the Body unsparingly exposes the conditions by which children of Holocaust survivors attempt to redeem the suffering of their parents, a shared grief that, as Daniel Mirsky laments, "wasn't supposed to be ours" (48). And even though Daniel wants to convince himself that one "can't lose what you never had," for the children of survivors, the weight of the Holocaust becomes by necessity and inevitability a shared loss (132). For Havazelet's characters, moving through a post-Holocaust world is a matter of pushing aside the seemingly endless detritus of history in order to give meaning, not only to their parents' lives, but to their own fragmented lives, too, in the ongoing rupture of the past.

A Kaddish for History: Holocaust Memory in Ehud Havazelet's Bearing the Body (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: 01 January 2010
  • Publisher: Purdue University Press
  • Print Length: 26 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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