Latest Review: "This Place Holds No Fear" by Monika Held
Lori Feathers is a freelance book critic. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFeathers. (And Anne, if you’re reading this, THIS is why I gave you a weird “I THINK I MET YOU BEFORE BUT HOW” look at ALTA in Tuscon—I had just assigned your translation of this book for review, which explains why your name was so very fresh in my memory. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet you in person!)
Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses holding your newborn for the first time or meeting the woman who will become your wife? For Heiner it is the 224 weeks he endured as a political prisoner at Auschwitz. What marks Held’s novel as an important addition to the large body of historical fiction about the lives of camp survivors is her exploration of Heiner’s psychological need to embrace his Auschwitz experiences rather than struggling to repress or overcome them.
The narrative begins in the early 1980s and skips forward and backward across what Heiner calls his “three lives” relative to Auschwitz—before, there (which “lasted forever”), and after. Raised in Vienna, Heiner joins the communist party at a young age and later, after the Nazis occupy Austria, he is arrested on political grounds, sent to Auschwitz and labeled R.U.—“Return Unwanted.” At Auschwitz Heiner does not shield himself from the daily horrors inflicted upon him and his fellow prisoners. He is determined to survive, to be a repository of the camp’s atrocities, and after the war to expose what he witnessed. Following the war Heiner fulfills the commitment he made to himself, publishing essays about survivors’ experiences and testifying as a witness at the Frankfurt-Auschwitz trials. But he never overcomes the guilt of not acting out, of failing to demonstrate his humanity by openly defying his captors at least one time during those years in captivity.
For the rest of the review, go here.