Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Telling Difficult Stories in Interesting Ways

This week’s Lincoln Avenue is a little unusual, because I don’t often get to talk with writers about their work, and my conversation with Serbian author David Albahari was especially interesting. Albahari was invited to YSU as a guest of the Judaic and Holocaust Studies Center, largely because of his Holocaust novel, Götz and Meyer. The novel’s narrator is exploring his own family’s history, including some who were killed by two SS soldiers, Götz and Meyer, who drove a specially-fitted truck that would be filled with Jews from a Serbian labor camp, who were then murdered by carbon dioxide piped into the back of the truck as the two soldiers drove around Belgrade. The story is horrifying, and well worth reading simply as a window into the experience of those who survived the Holocaust and, at least imaginatively, those who contributed to the death toll.

But Albahari’s writing is equally interesting for its literary style. Both Götz and Meyer and Bait, another of his novels, are written as monologues, and each book comprises a single, albeit very long paragraph. In contrast, other books by Albahari use a very fragmented style, with multiple stories emerging through a series of short flashes. These stylistic experiments reflect the writer’s interest in postmodernism, with all the questions it raises about the nature of narrative and truth. To invite such questions about an event like the Holocaust is incredibly powerful. In Götz and Meyer, the narrator keeps trying to imagine how the two soldiers lived, how they thought about their work, their relationships with their families, and so on, but the long meditation also reflects on the narrator’s family history and his students’ responses to his historical research. These musings invite the reader to think about the human natures of both the killers and those who were killed.

Albahari’s comments on the subject and style of his work are interesting, and he also talks about what it was like to be Jewish in Belgrade before and after the dismantling of Yugoslavia.


Anonymous said...

I'm a great fan of David Albahari's work. Could you tell me when this interview will be available online? Thank you!

Sherry Linkon said...

The interview should be available on the WYSU website by Thursday of this week. Enjoy!