I’ve recently read several books dealing with WWII which treat the issue of The Holocaust from an unfamiliar perspective, at least for me the perspective was one I’ve had less experience with. What I mean by this is that these books took up the smaller stories circling around the larger narrative of concentration camp internment and provided a backdrop, just as chilling and difficult, to that more well-known piece of history.
The first book was Arnost Lustig’s Lovely Green Eyes, the second was Philippe Claudel’s Le Rapport de Brodeck and now the third, just recently published by Alma Books, is Maureen Myant’s The Search.
The Search begins in Czechoslovakia in 1942, when nine-year old Jan witnesses the execution of his father, the destruction of his town and the internment of his mother and two sisters. (Although never mentioned by name, this event is a fictional recreation of the destruction of the town of Lidice in 1942). Jan is also interned, at first with his younger sister Lena. However, after a few months, Lena is sent away to be adopted by a German family near Dresden. Jan decides to escape and track Lena. The novel follows his incredible journey from Germany into Poland and back to Germany in the hopes of being reunited with his sister and eventually his mother and other sister.
Although the novel tackles a very difficult subject and involves a series of traumatic and/or violent events, Myant handles her bleak subject with a great amount of respect and care. I think this is mostly due to the narrative perspective. The reader experiences the brutal world of Nazi Germany through Jan’s eyes, and the way he alternates between confusion and fear, and naiveté and optimism creates an emotional texture that is much less aggressive than, say, an adult point of view might create.
In many ways, The Search is not easy reading, although I found myself moving through it smoothly. Jan’s journey is captivating, as are the various individuals he meets who either help or hinder him. The descriptions of war-torn Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany are worth a passing comment as well, as Myant recreates the cheerlessness of those years without resorting to a monochromatic palette. Much of the countryside and the towns are somber and even lonely, but still vividly depicted.
I was most impressed by the ending, which resisted an easy solution – and was neither negative nor positive. What finally happens to Jan, after nearly two years of searching and wandering, was both good and right…and heartbreaking. This seemed appropriate and I think Myant deserves some extra praise for braving a complex but realistic resolution.