Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I don't know how to say this without sounding horrible, so I'll just come out and say it: the Holocaust can be boring.

Ugh, I know, I know, right? But you know what I mean, Dear Reader--you know how many novels take wartime Europe as their setting, how many times the story has been told, each time with its own details, its own texture on the fine scale, but each time with the same bitter arc, each time with the same tragic point: Nazi-occupied Poland/France/Germany was a really, really awful place to be.

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, by Louise Murphy, is subtitled "A novel of war and survival." Well, yes, that's what it's about. It's pretty straightforwardly about that: a Jewish family, on the run from the Nazis, sends two little children to hide in the woods while the parents draw their pursuers away. They're told to call themselves Hansel and Gretel, and never to tell their Jewish names. They're taken in by an old woman known as the local witch. It has the shape of the fairy tale--she hangs bread on the walls of her house to show generosity to the birds--but turns a lot of stereotypes on their ears--the stepmother makes enormous sacrifices for the children's safety. It's well written; there's nothing wrong with it.

But I can't say I like it all that much. I've read this before--frigid Polish winter, not enough food, terrorists in the woods, SS officer, hunger, fear. It feels so distasteful to say it, but I know this story. And aside from the shape of the fairy tale, this book isn't really bringing anything new to it for me. It almost feels like nothing's happening, because everything that's happening is exactly what I expect to have happen.

I need to go do something virtuous now, to feel less like someone who doesn't care when little children are starving.

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