Memory Monster
by Sarid, Yishai; Greenspan, Yardenne (TRN)

"A brilliant short novel that serves as a brave, sharp-toothed brief against letting the past devour the present" (The New York Times Book Review), Yishai Sarid's The Memory Monster is a harrowing parable of a young historian who becomes consumed by the memory of the Holocaust.

About the Author:

Yishai Sarid was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1965. He is the son of senior politician and journalist Yossi Sarid. Between 1974-1977, he lived with his family in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanon border. Sarid was recruited to Israeli Army at 1983 and served for 5 years. During his service, he finished the IDF's officers school and served as an intelligence officer. He studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During 1994-1997, he worked for the Government as an Assistant District Attorney in Tel-Aviv, prosecuting criminal cases. Sarid has a Public Administration Master's Degree (MPA) from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (1999). Nowadays he is an active lawyer and arbitrator, practicing mainly civil and administrative law. His Law office is located in Tel-Aviv. Alongside his legal career, Sarid writes literature, and so far he has published five novels. Sarid is married to Dr. Racheli Sion-Sarid, a critical care pediatrician, and they have three children.

About the Translator:

Yardenne Greenspan is a writer and Hebrew translator. She has an MFA from Columbia University and is a regular blogger for Ploughshares. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Haaretz, Guernica, Literary Hub, Blunderbuss, Apogee, The Massachusetts Review, Asymptote, and Words Without Borders, among other publications.

In the first English translation of a work by controversial Israeli writer Sarid, his protagonist leads Israeli high-school groups on weeklong tours of German WWII extermination campsites in Poland. Sarid sensitively evinces the mental fatigue that comes from repeated exposure to atrocities, even for a young Holocaust historian like the unnamed guide. The guide's vivid retellings of the victims' experiences can overwhelm the emotions of those on the tour. In one episode, a Holocaust survivor requires assistance after essentially reliving the last moments of his mother's and sisters' lives. Framed as a report by Sarid's narrator to his employer at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial and research center, it is also serves as a fictional memoir. Sarid examines how our understanding of the Holocaust and, implicitly, other periods of strife is dependent on those who interpret history for us. Through the eyes of the narrator, we learn much about humanity's endurance as well as the inhumanity and moral ambiguities in historical narratives. Sarid effectively challenges us to bear witness alongside the characters in this thought-provoking book. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

In a report to the Chairman of the Board of Yad Vashem, a historian recounts how his life and livelihood became consumed by his study of the Holocaust. Award-winning Israeli novelist Sarid's latest work is a slim but powerful novel, rendered beautifully in English by translator Greenspan. The unnamed narrator, addressing an official at the Israeli Holocaust memorial museum Yad Vashem, explains how he ended up in his current position as a disgraced Holocaust scholar. His limited career options as a young academic—whose dissertation focused specifically on the details of extermination processes among concentration camps—led him to become first a Yad Vashem tour guide, then a leader of teen tours of Poland, then a guide accompanying ambassadors and elected officials on their Holocaust remembrance photo ops. Because of his expertise, he is asked to explain such horrors as the mechanics of the gas chambers and the strategy behind crematorium location and how these vary from camp to camp; he is even called on as a consultant for an Auschwitz "virtual reality" simulation. As he gets further into the story of his career, himself wandering deeper into the barren moral landscape he has dedicated his livelihood to assessing, the reader's emotional journey mirrors his own: The unthinkable becomes mundane, gruesome atrocities become bland facts. Propelled by the narrator's distinctive voice, the novel is an original variation on one of the most essential themes of post-Holocaust literature: While countless writers have asked the question of where, or if, humanity can be found within the profoundly inhumane, Sarid incisively shows how preoccupation and obsession with the inhumane can take a toll on one's own humanity. As the narrator falls into the clutches of "the memory monster," he is forced to consider—and the reader alongside him—at what point we ourselves become memory monsters. Sarid does not shy away from the aspects of these questions that cause many to avert their eyes. For instance, he limns the devastatingly simple cycle that leads the traumatized to inflict trauma upon ot h ers, his narrator recounting the sometimes ugly effects of the macho survivor mentality on Zionism: As he leads a tour of Majdanek, "on the few hundred meters' walk from the gas chambers to the dirt monument and the crematoriums, I heard them talking about Arabs, wrapped in their flags and whispering, The Arabs, that's what we should do to the Arabs." Nevertheless, the novel is anything but moralistic; it is, if not an indictment of Holocaust memorialization, a nuanced and trenchant consideration of its layered politics. Ultimately, Sarid both refuses to apologize for Jewish rage and condemns the nefarious forms it sometimes takes. A bold, masterful exploration of the banality of evil and the nature of revenge, controversial no matter how it is read. Copyright Kirkus 2020 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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