Review: Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation
Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A truly enlightening book for anyone interested in the memory of the Holocaust and how it has been interpreted by survivors, academics and creatives alike in recent years.

Pros:
– Rothberg’s analysis is straightforward to understand and insightful
– Far from expecting his readers to know the in-and-outs of Maus, Schindler’s List, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (which I’m sure, many of them will), Rothberg takes care to provide context

Cons:
– The initial chapters on realism and postmodernism are complex to read as you would expect on those subject matters but the rest of the book is easygoing in comparison – don’t be put off by them!
– This is personal interest but I would’ve enjoyed the book a great deal more and given it that precious 5-star mark had there been more analysis on how the Holocaust is presented in contemporary culture. Rothberg limits the analysis to several things including Maus, Lanzmann’s Shoah documentary, and the ‘year of the Holocaust’ on Saturday Night Live (in the mid-1990s) and though it’s very insightful, analysing a few more sources would’ve been helpful.
– On a similar note to above, this is personal interest rather than a criticism – the chapter on the Americanisation of the Holocaust was fascinating and I wish Rothberg had written more on the subject.

I opened this book looking for some short and sweet analysis to put in an essay I was finishing that needed to pack a little more of a punch before I submitted it two days later. Instead, I spent a good chunk of that essay-writing time poring over the pages completely fascinated by Rothberg’s analysis of Holocaust representation, particularly his analysis of Maus and of the Americanisation of the Holocaust.

This is an insightful book for anyone interested in that field of research and Rothberg’s thoughts on how the memory of the Holocaust is being used to propagate American values is both chilling and intriguing.
For an academic text, this book manages to be both highly comprehensive and very readable which is a hard balance to manage, particularly when it comes to talking about postmodernism and the effects of the memory of historical events in contemporary culture and politics. It’s well worth a read and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest, whether casual or academic, in how the Holocaust is being represented and why this representation is of vital importance to its memory and the place historical trauma has within modern society when it comes to commercialism, globalisation, identity politics, and the media.

View all my reviews

Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A short yet insightful account of a psychiatrist’s observations inside the Auschwitz concentration camp and Frankl’s subsequent views on logotherapy.

Pros:
– A must-read for anyone interested in how the victims of Nazi concentration camps coped both during and after their ordeal
– The second part of the book on logotherapy is insightful and applies what Frankl observed in concentration camps to everyday mental health
– It’s hard not to be in awe of Dr Frankl’s intelligence, knowledge and his work, especially when you consider the trauma he endured during WWI

Cons:
– The descriptions of the conditions in the concentration camps are written for the most part in a very detached and quite report-like way. This isn’t in any way a problem but it might not suit a reader looking for a more personal account.
– The section on logotherapy has a lot of technical language and references to field of psychotherapy that makes it hard to navigate as a layman.

Dr Frankl’s account of the living conditions within Nazi concentration camps is suitably harrowing and insightful. It was immensely refreshing to see a focus on the psychology of the victims and the neglected focus on the immediate aftermath of being liberated from the camps.
This book is a great companion to read alongside Saul Friedlander’s history of Nazi Germany and the Jews as it personalises the victims giving greater perspective on Friedlander’s celebrated accounts. As a history student, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in genocide history as the mindset of the victims relates to a few other first-hand accounts about genocide I’ve read and certainly gives you a greater understanding of how people manage to mentally cope with some of the worst of traumas.
On the same note, this book is an immensely powerful read for anyone undergoing any sort of mental health problem as it underlines an increasingly common cause of disorders. The type of thinking that encourages a person suffering in an infamously horrific concentration camp to find some sort of meaning out of their experience (and by extension, their life) is one all of us could do with learning from or at very about.

If you see a copy of this, make sure you don’t let it slip you by. You might need to do a bit of digging around the internet to get to grips with the aection of the book on logotherapy but it is worth the effort.
The short length of this book makes it a brief yet powerful read that will stick with you for some time.

View all my reviews

Review: Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories by Konrad H. Jarausch and Michael Geyer

Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories
Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories by Konrad H. Jarausch &amp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thought-provoking, clever and at times harrowing, this book is no light-hearted read but it tackles essential issues that anyone trying to understand German history will undoubtedly encounter.

Though the focus of the book is more about German identity and Germany’s place in historiography, its ideas are pretty accessible to anyone with a keen interest in knowing more about the 20th century and Germany’s place within it. It approaches many difficult subjects with a painful honesty that puts trauma under the microscope and investigates its causes and consequences.

While certain chapters of the book would be more useful if you’re studying a specific theme or period of German history, it’s really in the book’s completeness that it gives you a well-rounded perspective of the issues with looking at complex histories and identities which is an invaluable tool for any student looking to expand their critical thinking.

Shattered Past also has a goldmine of research to draw from which, when approaching the daunting swath of literature about 20th century Germany, is a vital yellow brick road through which to learn more about particular issues. What’s more, the book evaluates a broad range of literature and assesses their usefulness in turn which can save a student many hours of being slogged over articles only to find them of poor reputation.

After reading the book from cover to cover over a period of six months, my heavily annotated and underlined copy will have a secure home on my bookcase for a long time as it’s one of the most thought-provoking academic books I’ve read so far.

View all my reviews

Review: The Illustrated History Of The Nazis: The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

The Illustrated History Of The Nazis   The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler
The Illustrated History Of The Nazis The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with reviewing this book. It’s like going up to a someone who has lived their life swamped with WWII propaganda and asking them to tell you everything they’ve seen graffittied on the back of a toilet door about why Hitler was bad. I’ll give you an example here, at one point early on in the book the author delves into his own theory that Hitler was evil because he was emasculated by having one testicle. Given that a great amount of debate has been had over the controversy of Hitler’s genitalia, it seems far-fetched for the author to state this as fact and, even more ridiculous, to say that the Holocaust was solely caused by Hitler’s psychological reaction to his rumoured missing testicle. This was one of many problems I found with the author’s rants but it was one of the most notable due to the lengths the author went to try and back-up his theory.

Overall, this book is a pretty useless buy unless you want to look at the photographs (which, I’ll grudgingly admit, it does carry a half decent collection but there’s little there that you won’t be able to find on the internet). It’s the mental equivalent of asking a pub full of drunks at closing time that you’ll buy them a round if they tell you everything they know about Hitler and the Nazis. The whole thing is dramatized and fraught with inaccuracies (for instance, the author has also apparently figured out the mystery of who started the Reichstag fire, something again, that is often debated on by historians).
View all my reviews