Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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SURVIVOR’S TALE
A Holocaust novel is also the most striking and moving work to
date of Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
Anya
(1974) does not dwell on
the atrocities nor does it seek to transform the Holocaust into a
symbol. This story of a Polish medical student, a fiercely protec­
tive mother, caught in a net of history that envelops her and for­
ever alters the nature of her calm and orderly life, is a profoundly
moving document. It is also a superb achievement considering
that the author, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, had
never been to Poland, and had initially become acquainted with
the notion o f Holocaust through the Diary o f Anne Frank.
Schaeffer interviewed survivors and was touched especially by
the tale of one whose life approximated that of the Anya to be.
Schaeffer combined her new knowledge with the imagination
and sensibility of the poetess she is.
The result is the somewhat idealized vision of a survivor, a
woman with the determination not to be reduced to permanent
victim status nor to accept passively the loss of her child. In the
end Anya was reunited with her child, outlasting the years of hor­
ror, whereas the Nazi killers did not.
The fact bears repeating that Schaeffer does not seek to impart
any special wisdom on the events of the forties. There are no new
insights on killer Nazis, cowardly witnesses or pious, passive or
even rebellious Jews. She is content to tell one person’s encounter
with history intruding itself cruelly into her existence.
In American situations which surely Schaeffer knew better, she
has not always fared equally well. In her first novel,
Falling
(1973), she told the story of three generations of women in one
family, presumably her own. In
Love
(1981 ) , she relates the
almost unrelieved suffering of a pharmacist. The title of this
unsuccessful novel is puzzling, as love is one element that eludes
the hero as well as most other characters. In
The Madness of a
Seduced Woman
(1983), her one work without Jewish ties, she dealt
more successfully with an obsessive, thoroughly destructive love
that culminated in murder. Perhaps she wrote
Mainland
two
years later to show love in a different light. Here an upper class
New York woman finds salvation through a constructive love.
Love and what it is and can be, elevating in some instances, cor­
rosive and debilitating in others, has been the focus of this writ­
KAHN /AMERICAN-JEWISH LITERATURE AFTER BELLOW, MALAMUD AND ROTH
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