Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub

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Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: A quiet but emotional account from the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, reflecting on the traumatic memories we try to forget and the choices we make in life.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: April 2015
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099581796

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Diary of the Fall is a story about regret, guilt and resentment. It's told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, who reflects on not just his own life but also the lives of his father and grandfather.

This book was beautifully written. Part of the danger in translating a book is that you risk losing aspects of the author's voice, but that didn't happen here, and credit should be given to Margaret Jull Costa for doing it so well.

It isn't a particularly long book, and it's told in a series of short, numbered chapters, so it ended up being a very quick read. This works really well; I managed to finish it in two sittings, and felt I could appreciate it better that way. The narrator's reflections upon his childhood, his failed marriages, and his alcoholism brilliantly capture the sensation of someone struggling to overcome feelings of guilt and regret, but it's not the sort of story you can dip in and out of.

Jewish identity is a central theme of this book: in particular the aftershocks of the Holocaust still felt by today's generation. You don't need to be Jewish to understand the significance of something so huge. Much time is spent by the narrator wondering about his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who spent much of his later life locked away in his study, writing an endless series of banal encyclopaedic descriptions of various mundane aspects of life. At first it seems strange that a man who survived Auschwitz would retreat into himself this way and seemingly refuse to engage with the world, but it quickly becomes apparent that this seeming obsession is more accurately a coping strategy, a way for his grandfather to make sense of the world, something the narrator's father seems to rail against. These actions really drive home how impossible it is to truly escape from something as ominous and momentous as that – how it's always there, whether subconsciously or not. This idea is hammered home again and again: My grandfather went out to buy bread and the newspaper: Auschwitz. My grandfather said good morning to my grandmother: Auschwitz.

I'll admit found the narrator slightly difficult to engage with at times because of the constant sense of disconnect – he paints himself as a very loathsome character, deliberately, and it's hard to feel much empathy. The fact that he goes unnamed didn't help, either: he feels quite anonymous, and I wondered what made the author choose to do this.

Diary of the Fall was an unexpected and appreciated change of pace from many of the books I've been reading lately. While at first glance it may not sound like a breakneck thriller, it's a thoughtful and moving read that's well worth your time.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy for review.

I was strongly reminded of The Kite Runner (Graphic Novel) by Khaled Hosseini while reading this book, as it deals with similar ideas. Margaret Jull Costa also translated Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco.

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Buy Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub at Amazon.com.

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