Mosaic, non-linear and semi-autobiographical, this book is reminiscent in style of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Fiveand in theme of the works of Primo Levi. In documenting the stories of child survivors, it is a moving and necessary addition to the literature of the Holocaust.
Veteran Serbian novelist and screenwriter Filip David, who was born in 1940, has shaped a testament to the tragically under-documented plight of the Jews of Yugoslavia during World War II. Composed of anecdotes, news reports, and individual accounts, and woven together with recurrent motifs and diary accounts of his own experiences, The House of Remembering and Forgetting explores the nature of evil. It is a powerful contribution to the literature of the Holocaust.
Although the viewpoints shift along with the time frame, with various speakers testifying as bewildered survivors, and some, now dead, speaking from long ago in the form of letters and messages, the text is well structured and the prose is deceptively simple. It has now been sensitively translated by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, who remains alert throughout to the subtle cadences of trauma and remorse. Indeed, central to the narrative is the guilt of having survived, and mention is made of Primo Levi’s agony ... So many questions, so few answers, and always the haunting sound of a train. Filip David probes our communal bewilderment, as well as the fate of Serbian Jews in particular. A closing interlude, which takes place during a journey on the Orient Express — again, the prevailing image of a train— proves both unsettling and reassuring. Remembering is agony, yet forgetting is impossible, and David, drawing on his own history and that of his country, explains why.
In 1941, Albert Weisz’s parents, in a desperate attempt to save their children’s lives, throw him and his brother, Elijah, from a train headed for the death camps. Albert survives the fall, but his subsequent failure to find Elijah, who has inexplicably vanished, burdens him with a sense of guilt no amount of Holocaust memorials and conferences can lighten ... As Albert seeks solace in Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah, he experiences visions, in which he ‘sees’ his sibling—and his lost loved ones—as shining signifiers of the triumph of good over evil.
The House of Forgetting and Remembering is a tour de force reminiscent of Dostoyevsky; when Albert quotes from Zweig’s memoir, The World of Yesterday, he acknowledges that although our consciousness might wish to forget the horrors of our existence, it can find no respite in this world, where remembering the dead is a sacred duty.
The central question in this profound and complex short novel is: what is the nature of evil? ... The first of several narrators, Albert Weisz...hears an unnamed stranger argue that Hannah Arendt’s phrase 'banality of evil' is a dangerously reductive rationalisation. Evil, claims the stranger, cannot be so glibly encapsulated. Evil is incalculable, all-pervasive, metaphysical. All individuals and families — 'indeed entire peoples' — he argues, have 'a mysterious power watching them, a power called a daemon. It guides them, it saves them or it destroys them' ... Whether readers will be completely convinced of the implication that incomprehensible evil functions as a (or even the) primary force in human affairs is a moot point; but, at a metaphysical level, such an interpretation of the Holocaust itself remains entirely possible, albeit one that is profoundly discomfiting.