Page 85 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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6 5
K
a h n
— F
r e n c h
-J
ew i sh
W
r iter s
Finally, there is Albert Memmi, a Tunisian now of Paris, born
of a Jewish father and a Berber mother. All three are culturally
“marginal” figures. But this multiple identity has been the
dominant theme only of Memmi. Wiesel and Rawicz have been
the most talented interpreters of the Holocaust, the former in
five or six novels of exhaustive spiritual agony, the latter in one
single artistic effort.
Wiesel’s work, now nearly all translated into English, has sud-
denly become an object of wide critical scrutiny both here and
abroad. But the French influences on his fiction has only been
sparingly commented on. Yet, besides the Hasidic upbringing of
his Hungarian youth, French philosophy and literature have
been his chief formative influences. After the sparse autobio-
graphical
Night,
his novels have revealed many qualities of the
postwar French novel, sometimes called the non-novel. In fact,
Wiesel’s novels
are
borderline novels, too novelistic to be called
philosophic exercises and too reflective and careless of fictional
needs to be full-fledged novels. Perhaps it would not be inac-
curate to call Wiesel a Jewish Camus who, having accepted the
absurdity of existence, seeks to triumph over it through a mod-
ern Hasidic affirmation of joy. Wiesel remains the best known
writer of the Holocaust, although only one of his novels spe-
cifically recorded its horrors. But all his heroes are graduates of
the wartime tragedies striving desperately to forget all they have
learned and to shape a new existence in a life haunted by the
past.
Piotr Rawicz’s
Blood from the Sky
has received more critical
laurels than most novels dealing with the Nazi tragedy. Rawicz
subscribes to the postulate, evidently shared by distinguished
critics, that the Nazi horrors cannot be rendered by photographic
directness and that the Holocaust if transformed into art requires
special techniques combining Kafkaesque nightmarishness with
a virtual dissociation of ideas. Rawicz has told a savage and hal-
lucinatory tale reminiscent of the work of Jakov Lind, a German
language escapee from the Nazis. Like Miss Langfus’ heroes and
Wiesel’s early ones, Rawicz’s protagonist treads the Parisian pave-
ment, driven by the spectres of the past.
The case of Albert Memmi is more involved. In a bitter, often
aggressive and angry tone he bemoans the fate of Jews like him-
self. Memmi’s hero in
Pillar of Salt
was born, like himself, in
the squalor of a Tunisian ghetto. His father was Jewish, his
mother Berber. He was reared in a religion heavily tinged with
the superstitions of both peoples, on a dialect barely known to
the outside world; he was educated in French schools by colonial
minded French teachers and socially excluded by arrogant co-
lonial minded French boys. Young Albert admired all he could
not have, yearned for all he could not be. His frustrations were