Monday, November 23, 2009

The Cunning of History - Richard L. Rubenstein
Rubenstein presents the Holocaust in a new light. He doesn’t consider it an aberrant outburst of rabid hatred. Rather, it grew out of already developed trends in western civilization. The titles of two chapters are “Bureaucratic Domination” and “The Modernization of Slavery”; both bureaucracies and slavery have long been with us. A bureaucracy is unfeeling and efficient. The slavery introduced at Auschwitz was, due to the almost inexhaustible supply of labor, a work-to-the-death affair. Before these two elements could become operative, the victims had to be made non-citizens; Rubenstein stresses that the Nazis violated no laws, for the victims had been stripped of legal rights. There’s much in this book that’s informative and thought-provoking (such as the fact that major German firms set up factories in death camps to capitalize on the slave labor). Rubenstein is pessimistic about man and his future. We want to believe that “It can’t happen here.” But if it happened elsewhere, he argues, why are we immune, given the right pressures, a persuasive leader with a plan of action, and a large segment of the population willing to let him carry out a Final Solution to a problem?

A Pale View of Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro
This was Ishiguro’s first novel. Despite its smooth prose and interesting characters, it’s misconceived. An author has to play fair with the reader. Ishiguro gives us misleading information and omits crucial facts that would detract from his purpose. At the end, when the elements need a believable resolution, all that emerges is a false narrator. False narrators can be used effectively, but the reader must at least have a growing suspicion of what’s going on – and why. Otherwise it’s not the narrator who’s being untruthful, but the author. This book turned out to be no more than a wild-goose chase.

Anna of the Five Towns - Arnold Bennett
Anna is intelligent and has a will of her own, but she can’t stand up to more forceful personalities – most notably, her father. His miserliness extends beyond the desire for wealth; he’s emotionally tight-fisted. He doesn’t love Anna; he’s never felt love for anybody and never will, nor will he feel the absence of love in his life. In this portrayal Bennett showed how well he understood the power of selfishness. As the plot unfolds Anna tries to let her compassionate nature prevail, but she’s drawn into being part of someone’s destruction. Another force working on her is her future husband; he’s a decent man, but his commanding nature and self-assurance make him vaguely akin to her father. Though under the sway of dominant figures, Anna is drawn to the weak and helpless. Here lies the only misstep Bennett makes: the closing revelation that Anna loved the pitiable Willie doesn’t ring true. Fittingly, this story of destruction takes place in an industrial landscape devastated by man’s devouring pursuit of money.

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