Losing the dead, de Lisa Appignanesi
NOTA DE LEITURA
Que belo livro!
“Losing the dead” tem para a autora diversos significados:
- perder alguém = vê-lo ir-se desta vida;
- perder alguém no sentido literal, uma pessoa que desapareceu sem deixar rasto: é o caso do tio da autora, Adolf Lipszycs, irmão de sua mãe.
- terminar o luto por alguém, assentar na convicção de que o ente querido se foi embora, ficar apenas com uma recordação pacífica que já é quase indolor.
Lisa Appignanesi (sobrenome do marido, pai do primeiro filho), narra as duas viagens que fez à Polónia para descobrir a história da família. Pelo meio, a tragédia da Polónia na 2.ª Grande Guerra, e, no meio desta a “solução final” aplicada aos judeus: mortos três milhões de polacos, mais três milhões de judeus polacos. Restam hoje na Polónia cerca de 30 000:
Os expedientes utilizados pelos pais para sobreviverem são contados com naturalidade: os truques do pai para conseguir fazer algum dinheiro e sobretudo a coqueteria de sua mãe, que utilizava a sua beleza (era loira) para obter o que queria do inimigo.
Impressionante é também a descrição das reacções de seu pai perante qualquer tido de autoridade na sua vida após a guerra: automaticamente, ficava em pânico como se, na sua frente, estivesse ainda um SS.
O livro é também muito interessante quando a autora conta as suas reacções de adolescente às atitudes dos pais estrambalhados pela guerra. Quando o pai lhe proíbe de falar com alemães, ela revolta-se e vai aprender alemão.
Tem ainda muito interesse a descrição dos diversos modos de os judeus viverem o seu judaísmo.
Li agora a edição de bolso do livro, que foi já publicado em 1999. Na Amazon.com, a edição no Kindle é muito barata.
24 January 2014
Loosing the dead, by Lisa Appignanesi
As a teenager Lisa Appignanesi found her parents exasperating, but after her father's death and with her mother losing her memory, she began to research their lives, drawing on documents and family recollections. This wistful memoir tells the story of how Hena and Aron, Polish Jews in wartime Poland, adopted "Aryan" identities to survive. The trick was to be confident, even brazen (Hena travelled in front sections of trolley buses reserved for Aryans), to keep one's composure and always have a good story. Mistaken for a blond shiksa, Hena used her sexuality to get by and was flirtatious with authority. Aron was less fortunate (despite growing a Hitler moustache as camouflage): he was taken away to do forced labour, eating faeces to survive, and was later arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. He lived the rest of his life terrified of a knock at the door. Finally, Appignanesi understands why her parents were so paranoid: keeping up the pretence of dual identities had changed them for ever. A new afterword explores the role of memory in family life.
14 November 2013
MUST READS: Out Now In Paperback
When her elderly mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, writer Appignanesi wrote this fascinating memoir of her Jewish emigree parents and her own upbringing in Canada.
Now reissued, 14 years later, her mother is dead, but the power of the story is enhanced rather than diminished by the passage of time.
Her mother Hena, and father Aron, were in Poland during the war and survived mainly because her blonde, beautiful mother could pass as Aryan.
When they settled in Canada they were haunted by their past, which bored the teenage Lisa who was keen to embrace new opportunities. But later she went to Poland to trace her family roots and examine how memories affect the generation removed from the brutality of persecution.
Sensitive and honest, this is a moving blend of memoir and social history.
Saturday 06 March 1999
Losing the Dead by Lisa Appignanesi Chatto & Windus, 232pp
Carole Angier admires a daughter's search for parents who buried their tragic past
LISA APPIGNANESI arrived in Montreal in 1951, three years after me. She wasn't called Appignanesi then, and I wasn't called Angier. My parents were not survivors: they had made it to England just in time. Their war stories were about the Blitz, and the Pioneer Corps, and never speaking German.
In Montreal, I did not encounter (although they did) any overt anti-Semitism. Yet the destruction of six million of us was still too close for comfort. I seized the chance to flee my Jewishness eagerly. My friends were rarely Jewish, my boyfriends never; and as soon as I could, I changed my name.
Lisa Appignanesi's name then was Borenstein. Her parents were not survivors either: at least not in the main sense of that term. They had not been in a concentration camp; but they had been in Poland. They had survived the war in a much rarer, though not unique way: by passing themselves off as Aryans. Losing the Dead is their story.
Or rather, it is Lisa's telling of their story, through their memories and her own. And that's what makes it so interesting. It's not just the account of a terrible, triumphant adventure but also an exploration of its costs and effects; of memory, ideology, and growing up Jewish in Quebec.
The book begins with that, and it's the very best part. It brought Quebec back to me like Proust's madeleine - Esplanade Avenue, outside staircases, French kids with false teeth at 18 (from drinking Pepsi, Canada's Coke: that's why we called them pepsis, a meanness Lisa does not mention). Slowly, the Polish objects disappear, and Canadian ones take over; linen gives way to Formica, china and crystal to pottery and plastic.
But the Polish past does not give way to the Canadian present. Lisa's mother Hena had saved her family from the Final Solution by lies and charm, by relying on her instinct and blonde beauty. Her husband, Aron, dark and male, condemned by his own body the moment he dropped his trousers, could only follow and fear.
Now teenage Lisa cringes when her mother flirts with the doctor, cares only about looks, surrounds their peaceful suburban life with an intricate web of lies.
She cannot understand her father's sweating terror when they cross the Canadian border, she rages against his anti-German prejudice, she takes German courses, she makes German friends, she becomes "a whole reconciliation process in myself". She cannot bear those endlessly repeated stories; she doesn't want to know.
Later, of course, she did want to know. She goes back to Poland, she ransacks her memory, her brother's, her mother's; and in the second part of the book, she retrieves those hated stories.
This part is important. We should know these rarer truths, about Jews outside the camps, and their Polish helpers. But, as writing, it lacks the lived and layered intensity of the first.
What is profound and tragic about this book is its portrait of the internalisation of ideology by its victims (the blonde master, the dark slave); and of the impossibility of sharing memory, except destructively, until it is too late. By the time Lisa Appignanesi wrote Losing the Dead, her father had died and her mother's mind was going. But it is a powerful and tender memorial to both of them. The blurb suggests that Lisa's key relationship was with bold blonde Hena. But I think it was with Aron, who was dark like her: the emblematic emigrant, always in a hurry, always secretly afraid.
Carole Angier is completing a biography of Primo Levi
19 April 1999
The Pianist: the Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45
Losing the Dead
by Lisa Appignanesi - Chatto
IT IS HARD to believe that there could be anything more to publish about the sufferings of the civilian populations - Jew and non-Jew - under German occupation in the Second World War. But The Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoir of his existence in Warsaw from 1939 to 1945, is a book so fresh and vivid, so heartbreaking, and so simply and beautifully written, that it manages to tell us the story of horrendous events as if for the first time.
Szpilman was a young pianist in Warsaw at the outbreak of war. In order to survive, he played the piano in the cafes of the ghetto. When the time came, he accompanied his parents, his brother and two sisters to the station for despatch to incineration in Treblinka. After sharing their last meal together - one-sixth each of a cream caramel - his family disappears into the trains, never to be seen again. Szpilman, whisked away by an unknown hand, passes the following years hiding in attics, lavatories, cellars and ruins, living on rusks, on barley, and for long periods on nothing. His account is hair- raising, beyond anything Hollywood could invent.
Often he is saved by Poles, and finally by a German captain, Wilm Hosenfeld, who feeds, clothes and helps to hide him, and for whom he plays Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor on a clapped-out piano amidst the rubble of Warsaw - the most unforgettable scene in an altogether unforgettable book.
This is not a politically correct memoir. Indeed, if there is any bitterness - and there is almost none - it is reserved for the rich Jews of the ghetto, for the Jewish Labour Bureau and the Jewish police, who hunted their fellows and delivered them to concentration camps "with all the professionalism of racially pure SS men". Szpilman also pays tribute to the thousands of Poles who risked their lives to save the Jews, and to their own sufferings in their destroyed city.
Szpilman published his story as Smierc Miasta ("Death of a City") in 1946. The book, unacceptable to Communist Poland, remained out of print until its recent publication in Germany, where it appeared - as does this English edition - together with sections from the diary of Wilm Hosenfeld, a chronicle of the utter despair felt by this good German soldier. Hosenfeld's reward for saving many Jews was seven years, and death, in a Russian labour camp.
The story of the two men - the tormented Jew and the tormented German - form a perfect whole. Everything that has been most horrific in life in 20th-century Europe is encompassed in this exquisite memoir.
Lisa Appignanesi's fine account of her family, Losing the Dead, provides a perfect coda to Szpilman's book, for she writes as the child of those extremely unusual beings: Jewish parents in Nazi Poland who managed to stay alive throughout the War. Well written and intelligent, it is also a rare account of Jews who lived outside the ghetto, and who survived through cunning, energy, some wealth, and luck (Lisa's mother was blonde).
As the daughter of difficult parents, marked for ever by their wartime experiences, Lisa Appignanesi approaches their story with a combination of tetchy sympathy and resentful understanding. In searching out their lives, she also unravels hers. This is a vigorous memoir, full of idiosyncrasy and humanity; an important book of memory for those generations who could so easily forget how much, and why, the massive devastation of the Second World War lives on in its survivors.
Lisa Appignanesi OBE is a prize-winning writer, novelist, broadcaster and cultural commentator. A Visiting Professor at King’s College London, she is former President of the campaigning writers association, English PEN, and Chair of London’s Freud Museum.
Born in Poland, Lisa Appignanesi grew up in Paris and then in the province of Quebec - first in a small Laurentian town, subsequently in Montreal. She attended McGill University, where she wrote for and was Features Editor of the McGill Daily; spent a summer working for the Canadian Press, another doubling as a waitress and student at the Sorbonne. A Bachelor's degree in Honours English was followed by a Masters which included a thesis on Edgar Allen Poe. During that last year at McGill, she also taught at Loyola College.
Wooed to Britain in 1967 by what appeared in Canadian newspapers as a London buzzing with the new, she did a D Phil in Comparative Literature at the University of Sussex, spent a year in Vienna and Paris and wrote a thesis on Henry James, Proust, and Robert Musil which was later published.
After this, academic work didn't immediately beckon. First came a year as a staff writer in a social research firm in Manhattan. The work grew into a co-authored book on the counter-culture. 1971 saw her back in Britain lecturing in European Studies at the University of Essex, and some years later at New England College. During the second half of the Seventies, she became one of the founding members of the publishing cooperative, Writers and Readers - which included such luminaries as John Berger, Arnold Wesker and the young Irish writer, soon to be filmmaker, Neil Jordan; and originated the comic strip documentary series, Beginners Books.
The beginning of the Eighties found her at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, an edgy cultural centre which crosses all the art forms. In Appignanesi's time as Director of Talks and later Deputy Director of the ICA, she made the ICA a leading international player in the world of ideas, a multi-disciplinary and radical, philosophical talk shop. She initiated an exciting literature programme, discussion series, publications and conferences on everything from philosophy to art and advertising, politics to popular culture. She also set up the ICA video ‘In Conversation’ series; ICA-Television and acted as executive producer on a number of made for TV documentaries and dramas, including England's Henry Moore and Seductions. The mid-eighties also found her doubling up as Director of the Greater London Council Enterprise Board's cultural programme, a launch pad for thinking about and supporting the 'cultural industries'.
In 1990, she left the ICA in order to take up the challenge of writing full-time. She had two contracts in hand - one for a saga which became the best-selling Memory and Desire; another for a ground-breaking historical study, Freud's Women, co-authored with her partner, John Forrester. Radically different though they are on the surface, these books underline Appignanesi's interest in finding ways of marrying popular and high culture and writing across the divide.
Novels, several of them bestsellers and a number of highly-acclaimed non-fictions followed. Restless with genre and branding, Appignanesi's fiction has moved across them - romance, saga, thrillers, the historical novel, a comedy in letters, a novel of return, while her non-fiction moved from history to cultural commentary and analysis, to family memoir. She has also made several television films, including a film for French television on Salman Rushdie. She has presented and scripted various radio programmes and series, such as The Case of Sigmund Freud, Freudian Slips, and Archive on Four: Freud v Jung, for BBC Radio 4, as well as presenting Night Waves for Radio 3 and appearing on Radio 4’s Saturday Review. She has frequently appeared as a cultural commentator on radio and television and written reviews and features for various newspapers, including The Independent, The Guardian, The Observer and The Telegraph. She has given guest lectures across Britain, taught writing workshops and served on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors, on the Council of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. In researching The Memory Man, she became a Fellow of the Brain and Behaviour Laboratory at the Open University and shadowed Professor Steven Rose's group which works on memory, a subject which long fascinated her and is also at the centre of her family memoir, Losing the Dead which comes out in a new edition in 2013. As Deputy President of English PEN, and then its President, (2002-2011) she led the Free Expression is no Offence campaign against the Incitement to Religious Hatred legislation, and campaigned for and end to the Blasphemy Laws and reform to the visa system and libel laws. She also helped to establish the PEN PINTER PRIZE for writers of courage in Britain and abroad; and worked to site Antony Gormley’s commemorative WITNESS chair in the British Library Plaza.
Her award-winning Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present appeared to great critical acclaim, and was followed by the provocative All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion. She is currently working on Dangerous to Know, a book which again delves into the history of psychiatry, this time in conjunction with trials of passion and the rise of the expert witness. For her The Brain and the Mind series at King’s College London where she is a Visiting Professor, she received a Wellcome Trust People Award.
Her OBE is for services to literature.