book review: Diary of the Fall

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Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub. Publisher: Other Press. Fiction. Hardcover. 225 240 pages.

RATING: ****/5

“For reasons that seem obvious to me, I don’t believe in happy endings or even in endings at all, but I am as susceptible to moments of indulgent fantasy as anybody else.”

Author info: Michel Laub currently lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He’s a journalist and the author of five novels. Diary of the Fall is the his first novel translated into English.

Summary: Written in diary and notated form, this is the story of a man who regrets a cruel act toward a schoolmate decades ago. As he reconciles his behavior he reflects on the life of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and his grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor. The narrator’s an alcoholic on his third marriage. It’s simultaneously written with gravity and levity. A short read, it’s effectual and tender in relaying how the Holocaust affects several generations in varied ways.

On his grandfather: “In the final years of his life, my grandfather spent the whole day in his study. Only after he died did we find out what he had been doing there, notebooks and more notebooks filled with tiny writing, and only when I read what he had written did I finally understand what he had been through. It was then that his experience stopped being merely historical, merely collective, merely attached to some abstract moral, in the sense that Auschwitz became a kind of landmark in which you believe with all the force of your education, your reading, all the debates you’ve heard on the subject, the positions you’ve solemnly defended, the vehemently condemnatory statements you’ve made without for a second feeling as if any of that experience were truly yours.”

On the tragedy of the Holocaust: “My grandfather lost a brother in Auschwitz, and another brother in Auschwitz, and a third brother in Auschwitz, and his father and his mother in Auschwitz and his girlfriend of the time in Auschwitz, and at least one cousin and one aunt in Auschwitz, and who knows how many friends in Auschwitz, how many neighbors, how many work colleagues, how many people he would have been quite close to had he not been the only one to survive and set off on a boat for Brazil and spend the rest of his life without ever mentioning any of their names.”

On his father: “I found out two years ago that my father had Alzheimer’s. One day, when he was driving just a few blocks away from our house, he suddenly felt lost and couldn’t think how to get home.”

On the boy: “It would be hard to say why I became Joao’s friend. These things don’t happen because you feel sorry for someone, or because you’ve spent months tormented by the idea that you almost destroyed that person, although it might help to begin with, at least as an impulse when you first decide to approach him.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

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