0202 | Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally

Context: Read this at the Ukarumpa SIL base while I was visiting the LCORE building and doing some language database work.

REVIEW
I never did discover, while reading this, just why THomas Keneally called his book Schindler’s Ark. Throughout he makes reference to “the Schindler list” and it seems to more readily come to mind as a visual memorial to him than the overall scheme he put together to rescue nearly 1500 Jewish refugees during WW2. Of course, this is more famously known by the title of the list that Spielberg gave it for his memorable film.

Having seen the film and been shocked by its graphic nature, I was curious to see how, if at all, this reflected the book.

It reflects the book fairly well actually. The random killings of Amon Goeth are there, the brutal liquidation of the ghettos, the senseless transport of people too ill even to get out of bed – all of this shocks you in the book but obviously in a far less graphic way.

The story told is that of the playboy industrialist as louche as you like. The great irony of course is that in any ‘normal’ culture, he’d be condemned hugely immoral. But in the sliver of time allowed the Nazi party to turn the moral world upside down, Schindler’s womanising, his bribery, his black marketeering pale beside the holocaust.

In fact, the irony runs still further. Not only were his immoral traits hardly worthy of comment compared to the crimes of the time, they were in fact the way that he managed to achieve what has to be one of the greatest acts of selfless charity that era saw.

By building a network of contacts through bribery and marketeering, Schindler was not only able to pull the strings he needed to keep the people working in his factory free of the gas chambers, he was also able to fund their survival and appear to be just another Nazi profiting from the immense suffering of the time.

In actual fact, the war cost him dearly. None of his businesses were successful ever again and he was often dependent on the charity of those he’d saved.

One thing that I didn’t realise when watching the film though: praise is often showered on Spielberg for the use of a colour at just one point. A small girl in red is seen wandering aimlessly through the crushed ghetto of Cracow. This is entirely Keneally’s creation and he should get the credit for inspiring Spielberg.

It’s a remarkable story of course and Keneally did a great job bringing it to our attention. But the storytelling is hampered, I feel, by his insistence on sticking so closely to facts that he’s reluctant to re-create any conversation that he doesn’t have detailed records of. The book is therefore told mostly in a style that lacks any immediate dynamic. I felt this straightjacketed the account more than was necessary.

Overall though, a worthy read.

FIRST LINE
In Poland’s deepest autumn, a tall young man in an expensive overcoat, double-breasted dinner jacket – a large ornamental gold-on-black enamel swastika, emerged from a fashionable apartment block in Straszewskiego Street on the edge of the ancient centre of Cracow, and saw his cheauffeur waiting with fuming breath by the open door of an enormous, and even in this blackened world, lustrous Adler limousine

CLOSING LINE
He was mourned in every continent

RATING
rubbish | poor | mediocre | okay | good | very good | excellent | superb

  • michael September 10, 2009, 1:05 pm

    Watching the movie before reading the book spoils the book I feel. especially with a film as graphic as this as, instead of conjuring ones own images, one is trapped in the images of the film when reading the book.

    You are then seeing how someone else views the book rather than yourself.

    Reply
  • huimin December 31, 2009, 12:21 pm

    Hi, a probable reason for the title ‘Schindler’s Ark’ could be that one of the Jews saved by Schindler, Poldek Pfefferberg called Schindler a ‘modern-day Noah’. I was thinking about the same exact question and came across some of the interviews with the Schindler Jews.

    Reply
    • Arukiyomi January 3, 2010, 9:34 pm

      aah… that makes sense. Thanks for helping me understand the book better!

      Reply

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