I WAS A CHILD OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS by Bernice Eisenstein (McClelland & Stewart), 187 pages, $32.99 cloth. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
A new genre is born. I'm not sure what to call it, but that doesn't really matter. Though its way was paved by Art Spiegelman's Maus, Bernice Eisenstein's I Was A Child Of Holocaust Survivors is a unique hybrid as text and drawings, a variation on the adult graphic novel, converge to create a powerful and emotionally charged memoir.
It's also part mystery, part history. Eisenstein's parents met in Auschwitz and married just after the camps were liberated and just before they came to Canada. Through her drawings and words, Eisenstein attempts to piece together the past that, as in many survivor families, haunted her Yiddish-speaking household while remaining shrouded in silence.
In the process, Eisenstein begins to understand how being a child of Holocaust survivors has made her the person she is.
The drawings are not of the horrors themselves, but, rather, emerge out of the author's childhood memories. It's not surprising that an accomplished graphic artist like Eisenstein could produce such beautiful images - sometimes funny, occasionally irony-laden, always well-executed. An image of her TV-western-loving father walking under the Arbeit Macht Frei arches in full cowboy regalia is typical of Eisenstein's complex visions.
But it's the text that is so awesome, especially since it's by someone who doesn't identify as a writer. In the hands of someone less open, less willing to deliver the raw goods, less brave, the work would be either morbid or exploitative.
But I Was A Child Of Holocaust Survivors is neither. A brief section on the Holocaust as a childhood addiction - Holocaust as H - is some of the best writing ever on the subject of the 20th century's most brutal human catastrophe.