So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Kommandant's Mistress. Sherri Szeman

The Kommandant's Mistress is not a novel for everyone. The setting is an Auschwitz-like Concentration Camp, and the topic is not love, but power and survival. Yet inside this hellish environment, Sherri Szeman wonderfully depicts two people who use each other for survival and whose humanity peaks out from behind their grim roles.

The novel is divided into his story, followed by her story, ending with an obituary-like objective statement of the facts of their lives. Told in a stream of consciousness style that is freed from the constraints of time, the novel is in story fragments from disjointed periods of the characters' lives. The different pieces are hinged together with transition words, phrases, or concepts that strengthen the stream of consciousness feeling.

The author is at her best depicting the lies each person tells themselves to hide from the truth. Both her characters are poets who life has put in a place of unspeakable horror. They are drawn to each other out of survival and, by comparing their stories, the reader is shown how each has twisted the truth to live.

The book ends with an Author's Note that lists a three page bibliography of sources used in the writing. A difficult, but ultimately rewarding and original first novel that is firmly based in the historic period. Szeman succeeds in bringing both characters to life and giving them a voice.


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