A beautiful book that’s painful to read

A beautiful book that’s painful to read

There is a pile of books about the Holocaust on my night table, and they don’t make for restful sleep. Sometimes it’s all I can do to just dip into one, because the subject is so painful.

One book in particular – which has been waiting for me since December, far too long – is exceptional, extraordinary. I can take it only in small doses, but those doses are stunning.

An interesting word, that. When you are stunned, you are shocked still.

At any rate, “The Seventh Well,” by Fred Wander, is, as the blurb that came with it notes, “an autobiographical but fictionalized account of his experiences in 20 different concentration camps in France, Germany, and Poland.”

It was first published in East Germany in 1971, then republished in a united Germany in 2005, and now, in a masterful translation by Michael Hofmann (who’s translated Kafka, Brecht, and Joseph Roth), in the United States by W.W. Norton.

It’s told in heart-breaking miniatures, distilled like water melted from icicles.

Early on, the unnamed narrator is given a lesson in telling stories by “the master of words, the magician, Mendel Teichmann,” as are we, the unnamed readers, and the lesson has clearly been learned. He tells by – you have to read this for yourself – telling.

The master of words, the magician, Fred Wander, died in 2006, but his book and the murdered people in it are brilliantly alive.

If you read just one book for Yom HaShoah, it should be this one.