Can Children’s Books Ever Do Justice to the Holocaust?

July 23 2018

In surveying literature for children about the Shoah, Ruth Franklin holds up Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988) and Briar Rose (1992) as some of the best books in the genre, and compares them with such far less successful attempts as John Boyne’s popular The Boy in Striped Pajamas (2006). Yolen has recently written a third such book, Mapping the Bones, which, unlike her previous two, does not begin with a child encountering grandparents who are survivors. Franklin writes:

Not only are [Yolen’s] Holocaust books extensively researched, and their departures from historical fact scrupulously noted, but her fantasy framing devices also reflect a kind of imaginative humility about the difficulty of “truly understanding”—something to which Boyne, [for instance], pays only lip service. A book that involves time travel, [as does The Devil’s Arithmetic], deliberately relinquishes the possibility of being taken as historical fact. . . .

In The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose, the primary emotional pull comes from the struggle of a character from a younger generation to come to grips with what happened to her grandparent. But, having dispensed with this framework, Mapping the Bones immerses us in [the young protagonists’] struggles directly. There’s no reason that Yolen should repeat herself, of course, and it makes sense that the troubles of survivors’ descendants don’t feel as pressing as they did 30 years ago. Most children today will never see a survivor’s tattooed arm. Those of us who did are likely trying to figure out how to approach the Holocaust with our own children, wanting them to recognize its significance in their family history without allowing that knowledge to burden or define them.

Still, to me, there’s something essential about the interactions among generations in the stories we tell about the Holocaust, and I don’t think that my view is merely the product of my own childhood. In Yolen’s first two Holocaust novels, a younger person literally bears witness to the stories of an older generation—either by experiencing them herself, as Hannah does, or by listening to the testimony of survivors. And the reader, by imagining herself in the place of the main character, can vicariously bear witness, too. If there’s a consolation in reading these books, that’s where it can be found. . . . We may emerge from these books without grasping the true horror of their stories. But at least we’ve learned how to listen to them.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Children's books, Holocaust, Holocaust fiction

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela