Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Schindler's Ark: Review

I've had Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark on my must-read list for quite a while, and I finally found a great copy at one of my beloved local used book stores. It took another month or two for it to make it's way to the top of the pile - I was saving it, waiting for the opportunity to savour reading it, and it was truly worth the wait. Schindler's Ark is a book to be read slowly, to be thought about, to be understood - not just devoured. It is good in every way.

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Granted, I have a bias in favour of survivor stories of the Jewish holocaust of WW 2. I seek them out, in movie and prose form. And in that circle of favourites, Oskar Schindler's story is a stand-out. But what makes the tale of Oskar Schindler particularly riveting is how flawed and human a hero he was. Schindler was no saint, no embodiment of goodness, and certainly not a man you'd want to be married to. And he spent years of his life, seemingy boundless energy, and mountains in cash and goods to save, protect and improve the lives of Polish Jews throughout a period of unimaginable horror.

Those who have seen the movie Schindler's List (the adaptation of Keneally's book) know much of the plot of the story. But where Keneally's tale shines is in the balanced and full characters. There are few angels here, and only the devils you would expect. And that makes the heroism of Schindler and those like him all the more remarkable. Of course, the humanity of many of the Nazi characters in the story is as chilling as Schindler's is encouraging, but boundless good and boundless evil seem to be equal human options.

I was distracted several times by the fact that Keneally's book is considered a novel. It is clearly VERY well-researched (I particularly appreciate the first-hand accounts) historically accurate. I guess this is yet another case when the lines of genre are blended - Keneally surely filled in the blanks creatively. Apparently the same concern hounded the Man Booker award committee, as when the book won the award in 1982 there was some hew and cry about the fact that the Man Booker is an award for fiction. And if the Man Booker committee couldn't sort out the non-ending genre conversation, far be it from me to presume.

And really, the issue of genre is irrelevant to the success of the story. I loved reading Schindler's Ark. It made me want to see Schindler's List again (not that it takes much inspiration for me to want to watch a movie with Liam Neeson AND Ralph Fiennes in it). And it reminded me of the inherent goodness in people, and that we can never know what circumstance will pull someone forward to express that goodness.


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