Rarely have I been as moved by a memoir. Hard to imagine a seven year old surviving the Buchenwald concentration camp, yet Rabbi Lau did. We hear how he lost family members one by one, yet was saved by his mother, who shoved him out of the line of doomed women and children, at the last minute. How could she have known their shared fate? How did she have the courage to do this? And once in the camp, this child is saved by a series of what can't be considered anything but miracles, time and time again. That and the efforts of many kind adults who wanted more than anything to see this child survive. Rabbi Lau's story after liberation, including the birth of the modern state of Israel, is no less riveting. A brilliant recounting of a Jewish child's trajectory in the twentieth century. The introduction alone is quite profound. Sets the tone for the rest.
I had never read Graham Greene before and in fact bought the book more because I'm a big fan of Colin Firth. I wasn't disappointed in either of them. Colin Firth elevates narration to a new level. I never heard his voice, only those of the characters and author. I felt like I was being entertained, not just read to. Firth seemed to understand and interpret the subtleties in Greene's writing.
I also enjoyed the novel itself, though I was a bit let down by the ending. That's probably a personal feeling and others may not agree. The book had depth that I didn't expect, exploring themes of love, relationships and religion. The cuckolded husband is an interesting, well-drawn character, something one doesn't usually see in such stories. No one in Greene's vision is completely guilty or innocent, all are with faults, simply human. A nice, very well-written surprise.
On the surface this seems like a simple story of a young sex offender. Yes, it's interesting to hear how this kind of a conviction changes the lives of those convicted, forever. And we can learn to sympathize with those few who are punished for uncontrollable urges that border on mental illness, or who are simply looking for love in all the really wrong places. But this book is about so much more. I am grateful to Russell Banks for taking the most vilified people on the planet and writing a story of redemption through their eyes. By doing this he successfully illustrates what is, I think, almost a biblical parable. In fact there are many references to the Garden of Eden, the mistaken loss of innocence, the prodigal son, and finally an upside down, ironic sort of beautiful redemption. I loved this book, loved the narration, the writing. Well worth it.
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