LONG SHADOWS: TRUTH, LIES AND HISTORY by Erna Paris (Knopf), 495 pages, $36.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNgo to the depths that erna paris travelled to write Long Shadows and you will emerge either completely numb or totally passionate. To her credit, Paris remains a feeling person, and the emotion inside this book smoulders so powerfully that you can't help but be moved by it.
Paris journeyed all over the world to probe how nations cope -- officially -- with the traumas governments have heartlessly visited on human beings.
In Germany, she witnesses the children and grandchildren of Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust trying to make their forebears accountable. In France, as the trial of a Vichy regime bureaucrat unfolds, she assesses the collective amnesia -- state-promoted -- that helped the French rationalize collaboration with the Nazis. Japan, too, embarked on a campaign to eradicate from the country's collective memory the 1937 slaughter its army inflicted in Nanking. And in Salem, Mississippi, she sees how slaveholders' heirs live in a state of unreality.
Paris concludes that hiding history is a hopeless strategy. Only by remembering will there be any accountability, reconciliation or change.
Though she's ambivalent about amnesties, she admires the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission operating in post-apartheid South Africa. And she sees United Nations-sanctioned international criminal tribunals such as the one that held Rwandan army chiefs and cabinet ministers responsible for the slaughter of the Tutsis as a potential source of justice.
The final chapter, on racial hatred in Bosnia, is probably the most devastating. Any reader has to wonder, as the ethnic cleansing and the lies persist, have we learned nothing? will there be no justice?
But Yugoslavian police have arrested secret police chief Rade Marcovic and, at this writing, are investigating former president Slobodan Milosevic. We can see hope in Yugoslavs' desire to scrutinize recent wrongdoings.
And in the fact that author Paris was able to catalogue all these atrocities and still come out with some faith in humankind.SUSAN G. COLE