There was something in Pick’s writing that made this a very tender book, despite the context of the Holocaust and War in Europe. There was a softness in spaces between the hard realities of life on the outside, perhaps the ‘real’ world. I fell into this book, like one falls into soft linen puffed up with feathers and as I sunk into the prose I truly felt embraced by these characters and their journeys.
I remember a dim street, late fall, and my mother at the end of it, a kerchief knotted under her chin. She was looking back at me already then, as though across a great gulf of time. I tried to move towards her but the street was so long, and there were people blocking my path. When I caught another glimpse, she had taken off her scarf. It was crumpled in a ball in her hand, which she hep against her chest. A bit of wind played with the hair around her face. She held my gaze – there was something she was telling me, something she needed me to know. The whole history of our family was contained in that look. Then she turned a corner and was gone.
There were so many memorable passages in this novel which I think is testimony to Pick’s intentions in this writing:
Intellectually, I wanted people to understand that evil is slow and creeping, that political and social pressure can cause even everyday people to act reprehensibly, and that nobody is immune. I hope the book causes readers to reflect on what they would do in the characters’ situation. From an emotional perspective, I wanted the readers to be caught up in the Bauers’ story, and to really feel the pain and terror of what faced them.
What is interesting about Pick’s narrative structure is that she utilises the voice of a researcher to slowly expose this story. In this instance, the narrator herself, Anneliese, is as interesting as the characters. She is anti-social, a perfectionist, intrigued by the letters that she has uncovered and determined to find the story that they are hiding. Her journey toward finding the truth helps readers comprehend the notion that the past shapes our identities, that “(m)emory bleeds out, or gets covered in snow” and that we are tasked with remembering on behalf of those who no longer can.
I found Pick’s approach to the genre of Holocaust fiction refreshing, although at times justifiably haunting. With beautiful simplicity she has danced around some of the most harrowing decisions that faced those living through the Holocaust – parents, children, carers, businessmen, lovers. For doing this without sounding judgemental, Pick deserves recognition and acclaim.
We can never know what tomorrow holds, and at times we cannot understand from where the past comes. Our task is to live each day as though it is a gift.
The train of memory sleeps on its tracks. At night, in the station, the shadows gather around it, reaching out to touch its cool black sides. The train stretches back, far out of eyesight. Where it comes from is anyone’s guess.