After Auschwitz: A Love Story
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"When we're young we tend to think of memory as something belonging to us. There are good memories and bad ones, but aside from forgetting names occasionally, it is hard to imagine what ceasing to rely on your memory means. My mind still functions enough for me to be frightened and feel diminished. Someday, I hope not too soon, I'll cease to be alarmed...."
-- Renzo, from After Auschwitz: A Love Story
Two of the 20th century's terrible A's collide in this powerful novel -- Alzheimer's Disease and the Auschwitz death camp. Brenda Webster brings to bear her considerable knowledge of Jewish and Italian history and culture, personal acquaintance with the families of luminaries like Primo Levi, and a lifetime of psychological insight as she observes the intellectual decline of Renzo, a once brilliant writer and filmmaker.
The novel is set entirely in Rome in 2010, and benefits from the author's comfortable familiarity with the city's haunts, both hidden and famous. Renzo, aware that he is slipping deeper and deeper into the haze of Alzheimer's, keeps a journal in which he grapples with his complicated marriage to Hannah, who survived the death camps as a child and went on to become a chronicler of that experience. Renzo knows how painful it is for Hannah to lose yet another loved one -- himself -- as he chronicles his own failing grip on reality.
This story of enduring love -- a love that makes the pain bearable -- inspires hope where there appears to be despair, and allows humor to leaven the loaf of existence. As Renzo's rich memories of the artistic and intellectual currents of the 20th century begin to fade, highly lyrical passages elucidate his sophisticated anguish and his child-like wonder.
McCarthy. He and my poet friend George were gone ten years, hiring themselves out as carpenters. When George came back to the States, he won a Pulitzer Prize. Lucian came to Rome—he couldn’t film anymore except under a pseudonym—and married Gabriella. He liked to tell how her shrink had said he was the best of her suitors. He was very handsome in a Jewish sort of way, dark wavy hair, full lips. I should have taken a tape-recorder and recorded him—last of the old Reds. Reds on the black list.
Piazza Navona. I loved the intricate dance of its curves and the plunging horse plashing in Bernini’s fountain in front. My parents only went to church on special occasions like a baptism or a wedding, but at around the age of seven I became captivated by a book of saints’ lives that I found in my father’s library. I seem to remember it had a brief forward by Mussolini. By a strange coincidence, Mussolini had been my father’s patient as an adolescent. Il Duce probably gave him the book as a
called it. The Mexican woman, short with a wide open face and her children holding on to her apron. Gabriella didn’t seem to mind. And then they would joke about their two analysts, telling them they were suited to each other. “The best boyfriend she’s had yet,” Lucian said and they laughed and we all felt young for a moment. Did I tell you that already? Yes, I think so. And then he’d tell us how when he came back to California he had to produce movies under an assumed name. A friend of his, a
a second chance to be caring. I asked her to let me come back home. She did, she let me. She was afraid of having another attack. I went with her everywhere, and I think she liked it. Then, ironically, I began to have trouble with my memory. Now instead of my caring for Hannah she is caring for me. She does it with kindness but also wry humor and sometimes a glint of something else—a sense of her own power. Like anyone else she can get tired and cross. My journey home started when I was
as if every hour I do something which irritates Hannah. I keep track of the days and my plans on my BlackBerry—gift from Hannah, of course. I never was very good at keeping my plans straight and now I’m worse. I can’t tell if it is age or a brain filled with plaque, the debris of a lifetime of thinking, gradually returning a man to his animal state, but without the easy pleasure or the knowledge of how to hunt and kill. Even balance and ease of gait, lost. See, I tell myself, I can think well