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Salamon's last book, The Devil's Candy, was a wonderfully telling book about Hollywood. This, too, is a wonderfully telling book, but quite different. In 1993 Salamon interviewed Steven Spielberg on the set of Schindler's List in Poland. In tow was her mother Lilly, who survived Auschwitz. Lilly remembers little of the camp, though she recalls that Mengele was a handsome man. As Salamon writes, "dropped into madness, she adjusted to madness." In her life afterward, Lilly was indomitably optimistic. She and her husband-a survivor of Dachau-established their family in the Midwest. There they were a continent and a culture away from a past that nevertheless seeped into their relentlessly American present. Her parents' ultimate triumph is that they achieved ordinariness. Salamon movingly evokes their courage in this extraordinary memoir.
In The Devil's Candy, Julie Salamon reported on the making of Brian DePalma's dead-in-the-water film version of Tom Wolfe's novel Bonfire of the Vanities. Here she gives us her own family's memoir, an altogether more personal report, but one which also begins in the film world. Invited to visit Steven Spielberg on the set of Schindler's List, Salamon asks her mother, Lily, to go along. Lily, herself a survivor of the concentration camps, "came through Auschwitz remarkably unscarred," writes Salamon. "Dropped into madness, she adjusted to madness." Once she saw Joseph Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor, when he visited the camp. "He was good-looking," Lily tells her horrified daughter 50 years later, "though most men look very good in uniform."
Lily's normalcy is part pluck, part denial. Her Ohio-born daughter, by contrast, approaches this visit to the sites of the Holocaust with dread -- at her distance the evil of the Final Solution can only appear inhuman, monstrous, off-the-scale. The film set, with its artificiality in pursuit of real feeling, enhances the contrast. "The crematoria have been knocked down," Spielberg tells Salamon, "except for the one ABC built for In the end, Lily forces herself to remember all the piercing details, the terrible betrayal of the war, and does so in order to help her daughter come to a just understanding of it. The two exchange their stories and their points of view. This moving, intimate and often funny memoir demonstrates how the stories we must make up to survive can bring us to the actual truth, after all. -- Salon
In the end, Lily forces herself to remember all the piercing details, the terrible betrayal of the war, and does so in order to help her daughter come to a just understanding of it. The two exchange their stories and their points of view. This moving, intimate and often funny memoir demonstrates how the stories we must make up to survive can bring us to the actual truth, after all. -- Salon
Actually, Hollywood does put in a brief, distracting appearance in the person of Salamon's pal Steven Spielberg, whose filming of Schindler's List neatly coincides with Salamon's own excavation of her parents' Holocaust experiences on a trip to Eastern Europe. Her quest seems to be threefold: to understand her mother, Szimi, an optimistic, happy-go-lucky soul; her father, Sanyi, the ideal physician and "saint" of Adams County, Ohio; and the reason why these two Czech Jews, survivors of Auschwitz and Dachau, would settle in such a poor, remote town at the foot of the Appalachians. But while Salamon (formerly of the Wall Street Journal) can gather all the information, her unusual parents elude her powers of penetration; each is reduced to a single, most salient quality. Szimi's breezy detachment may have helped her survive the wartime trauma of deportation, deprivation, and resettlement, first in Prague, where she met Sanyi, and then in America. But at its extreme, when she revisits Auschwitz, this every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining attitude is downright bizarre ("You know, if I hadn't gone through this place I probably wouldn't have led such an interesting life"). Sanyi (who died of cancer when Salamon was 18) remains a remote figure; admitting herself that she barely knew her father, she paints Sanyi primarily as a dedicated doctor whose long silences and deep rages were due to the loss of his first wife and daughter at the hand of the Nazis.
In the end, this narrative is at once too private and too impersonal—the reader floats on the surface of events and characters, unable to to enter into the Salamons' search for a safe place to raise their family.
|4.||The Lucky One||55|
|7.||The Gypsy Woman||111|
|8.||Heaven on Earth||127|
|10.||Set for Life||157|
|14.||The False Spring||227|
|16.||This Is the Place||259|
|17.||The Conspiracy of Happiness||281|
|18.||A Very Good Life||291|
|Epilogue: "Is It So, Suzy?"||331|