On the Edge of the Holocaust: The Shoah in Latin American Literature and Culture. By Edna Aizenberg. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2016. xiv +182 pp.
On the Edge of the Holocaust brings us a study of five Latin American writers who were contemporary to the Holocaust and who represented the Shoah both in written and visual culture. Using the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Clarice Lispector, Alberto Gerchunoff, Joao Guimaraes Rosa, and Gabriela Mistral, Edna Aizenberg's objectives are two-fold: to show how these authors, in dealing with the Shoah, challenged "prevailing truths about Latin American literature from that period" and also to restore these world-class writers to a place among the many others who openly criticized and resisted, in their own ways, Nazi atrocities (x). These authors, Edna Aizenberg explains, wrote at a time when Latin American writers were moving away from traditional realism into fantasy, dream work, and interior monologue. Their challenge, Aizenberg notes, was how to represent the Holocaust "with the tools of unreality" even when situating their works in the Latin American landscape instead of Europe (xi). Aizenberg masterfully surveys the strategies employed by these authors to do just that.
Focusing mostly on "Deutsches Requiem," a story that appeared in Borges's collection of stories El Aleph in 1949 and that has only recently received critical attention, Aizenberg claims that Borges "recognized early on that the reality of Auschwitz demanded a poetics of saying and unsaying -on the one hand, mimetic approximation, documentary accumulation; on the other, escape, fantasy, fragmentation, fractured discourse." (16) He therefore created a main speaker who was a Nazi about to be executed for his participation in the Holocaust but juxtaposed that narrative with the comments of an editor presented in the footnotes. Thus, through these two voices, he exposed his desire to understand "from within" what had brought the Germany he so admired to the brink of its demise, while also hinting at his other deeply felt desire that Nazi Germany be defeated for its atrocious crimes.
Aizenberg reconstructs Clarice Lispector's travels in Europe (19441949) as the wife of a Brazilian diplomat who experienced the impact of the war and the Holocaust closely. Aizenberg reads her correspondence with her family and her fiction--in particular The Besieged City (1949)--with an eye to the famous writer's stylistic strategies in placing her...