Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

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.

7 Responses to “Maureen Myant – The Search”

  1. litlove

    A lovely review, Verbivore and one I was most interested to read as I have a copy of this. However, I’m reading le Clezio’s Etoile errante at the moment and whilst it is extremely beautiful, the exile of the Jews is just breaking my heart and I have to keep putting it down. I did better with Holocaust literature when I was teaching it, as I could always hold it at a safe critical distance. As an undefended general reader, it all seems much harder!

  2. Mel U

    Thank you for sharing your reading of this book in your wonderful review. In the last month or so I have read two Young Adult (I really do not care for that term but is is the one in use for these books) centered on the Holocaust-one was Milkweed that I simply loved-I read the last ten pages four times it was so well done-I also read a few days ago The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (I also watched the movie the next day). It is very well done if not perhaps as beautifully writted as Milkweed-

  3. Stefanie

    This sounds like a beautiful and difficult book and your review has me interested in reading it. It’s good to know the ending was right. Sometimes with books about tragic times I think it is too easy for us to try and “save” the characters from the fate we know they should really have.

  4. Charlotte

    This sounds like a great book — it reminded me Lignes de Failles, a probably very different book (from Nancy Huston), but the first one where I read about the Lebensborn. Is this what Lena’s adoption is about? I was so shocked that I had gone through learning about the Holocaust 3 different times at school and never heard about that.
    And litlove — I’ve never taught about the Holocaust, yet I also have more and more difficulty reading about it as years pass. I think it’s something to do with just grasping the monstrosity of it better, being better capable of empathy maybe?

  5. ted

    I don’t know any of these books, thanks for the write up. I’m about to start a book by Kertes about the Nazi occupation of Hungary which looks interesting as well. I’m interested in putting these on the long list!

  6. Dorothy W.

    I’m finding out about so many interesting books from you — ones I probably wouldn’t have come across elsewhere. This one sounds very interesting — difficult but worth while. I’m glad the ending is so satisfying.

  7. びっくり

    Your review is very moving. Particularly I think I would like the descriptions of the physical environment; however, I don’t think I can emotionally handle the topic matter right now. This one will have to be saved for later.

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