"As tough-minded as it is clear-eyed, Ruth Franklin's bracingly unsentimental meditation on Holocaust literature and its critics is not for the weak-of-heart. Her startlingly fresh and original rereading of writers as diverse as Borowski, Wiesel, Kertesz, and Sebald among many others strips away truisms and cliches and gets to the heart of what this literature can and cannot do--why we must read what we can hardly bear to think about. Brilliantly researched and beautifully written, A Thousand Darknesses is the best volume of cultural criticism I have read in years, Holocaust-related or not."
-- James E. Young,
author of The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning
"Descending into the shadow world of Holocaust literature, Ruth Franklin explores, brilliantly, the interplay of experience and invention necessary to make the darkness of the Nazi extermination visible. In the process, she has written not only a profound exploration of a vital literature but a stirring defense of the imagination itself."
-- Jonathan Rosen,
author of The Talmud and the Internet
What is the difference between writing a novel about the Holocaust and fabricating a memoir? Are Holocaust writings, by their very nature, exempt from criticism and interpretation? Do narratives about the Holocaust have a special obligation to be truthful--that is, faithful to the facts of history? Is a fictional account of the Holocaust, in the words of Elie Wiesel, an "insult to the dead"?
In this provocative study, Ruth Franklin investigates these questions as they arise in some of the most significant works of Holocaust writing, from Tadeusz Borowski's Auschwitz stories to Jonathan Safran Foer's postmodernist family history. She argues that the memory-obsessed culture of the last few decades has led to a mistaken focus on testimony as the most valid form of Holocaust writing. As even the most canonical texts have come under scrutiny for their fidelity to the facts, we have lost sight of the essential role that imagination plays in the creation of any literary work, including the memoir.
In sustained and fluent analysis, Ms. Franklin provies powerful new interpretations of memoirs by Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi; novels by writers such as Piotr Rawicz, Jerzy Kosinski, W.G. Sebald, and Wolfgang Koeppen; and the film Schindler's List. Written by a gifted journalist and literary critic, this graceflul and wide-ranging account offers a lucid view of memory and imagination in Holocaust literature that also illuminates broader questions about history, politics, and truth.
"Too many critics, instead of assessing and parsing and criticizing (in the healthiest sense), treat Holocaust works as inviolable, beyond judgment or even approach. Such sacralization is a disservice, smothering the critical dialogue that great literature engenders. Ruth Franklin's new book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction, is therefore more than a towering work of criticism and insight--it's an invaluable corrective."
-- Menachen Kaiser, The Atlantic
"I could easily fill every column inch of our book coverage with titles about the Holocaust -- histories, memoirs, novels, poetry, and even cartoon books....Of all these books, however, only one courageously addresses the fundamental question of what is permitted and what is not permitted -- from a moral, historical and literary point of view -- when we dare to write about the Holocaust. That is exactly why "A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction" by Ruth Franklin is such a brilliant, challenging and surprising work."
-- Jonathan Kirsch, The Jewish Journal