... a brilliant short novel that serves as a brave, sharp-toothed brief against letting the past devour the present ... Translated from the Hebrew with a steady hand by Yardenne Greenspan ... Sarid is clearly very scared for Israel. The allegorical rhythms beat too loudly here to ignore. Other writers have described well the reverberations of trauma but few have taken this further step, to wonder out loud about the ways the Holocaust may have warped the collective conscience of a nation, making every moment existential, a constant panic not to become victims again.
The compact , far-ranging novel is quite effective, despite how difficult it is to deal with what is after all very familiar material. The contemporary angle, allowing for a focus on the dangers of forgetting, is quite well-handled, and the narrator (and his spiral into the abyss) plausibly rendered. It's meant to be an uncomfortable trip, too, and it certainly succeeds as that -- with Sarid thankfully avoiding the gratuitously sensational ... a fine addition to Holocaust literature -- though in the mass of it can also feel a bit like just another variation on the theme, not sufficiently differentiated to really stand out in a novel way; artistically it is also generally solid, though arguably, for all the mention of the personal, falling short in the development of the characters (with most of the secondary ones, including wife and child, only incidentally figuring in most of the narrative). Sarid raises and grapples with many of the vital questions -- but they have been widely grappled with before, and even as it continues to be important to engage with them, Sarid's narrator's twisted path is across familiar territory with all the well-known and often-debated markers and issues -- usefully pointed out, but ultimately really only limitedly and hurriedly considered. On the other hand, for those who haven't read extensively on the subject, it's a sharp and good concise take, effectively presented -- an ideal text for college introductory survey courses and the like.
Sarid sensitively evinces the mental fatigue that comes from repeated exposure to atrocities, even for a young Holocaust historian like the unnamed guide ... 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.
... a brilliant, challenging, and uncompromising novel by the Israeli writer Yishai Sarid, recently translated from the Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan .... In this grim portrait of an Israeli scholar who makes his living leading tours of the hell of the camps, Sarid, son of the late left-wing politician Yossi Sarid, forces us to question the complacency and moral blindness that accompanies the centrality of the Holocaust in Israeli life ... the novel takes the form of a letter to the director of the institution ... The Memory Monster is animated not by stirring plot points, but by the vital questions the narrator asks of himself and those he takes on tours. His queries prod at the tour attendees’ feeling of moral purity, inviting them to occupy roles other than that of quintessential victim or existential avenger and thus displacing them from their comfortable, sacrosanct position ... The tone and spirit of The Memory Monster is Dostoevskyan, and its narrator not unlike the Underground Man, who perceptively observes the baseness in both himself and the world. But if his vision is exaggeratedly bleak, it is also honest.
... a slim but powerful novel, rendered beautifully in English by translator Greenspan ... 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 ... 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 others, his narrator recounting the sometimes ugly effects of the macho survivor mentality on Zionism ... 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.