Sunday 27 December 2015

Götz and Meyer

Finished December 26
Götz and Meyer by David Albahari, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać

This short novel is told from the view of a teacher, a man whose immediate family were some of the few Serbian Jews to survive the Second World War.
He tells the story of the fate of many Belgrade Jews, who were first interned at the Fairgrounds, and then taken by truck to their death. When leaving the Fairgrounds, they were told they were being transported to another camp in Poland or Romania, and the local Jewish Administration was even given the rules of the new camp to flesh out the story. In reality, shortly after leaving the camp, the two drivers, brought from Germany, Götz and Meyer, stopped and attached the exhaust to a spot in the floor of the truck and drove their route while the Jews in the back died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The unnamed teacher survived because his mother had taken him to live in a small village in the mountains, and his father survived in a POW camp. But he is consumed by the story of the Jews, many of his relatives among them, and has researched their story and dug into the identities of those involved. About Götz and Meyer he doesn't know much beyond their names, and his story reveals their interchangeability.
As his students study history, he rents a bus and takes them on the same journey, first to the Fairgrounds, then onward as he gives them an identity to imagine and become for the trip. Imaginative and consuming this novel makes the victims come alive, as well as the two young soldiers who drove the truck.
I found the book difficult for its subject matter and its format, which is just one long paragraph. I felt myself needing to take breaks, but without any natural spot to stop. The author is Serbian, but has lived in Canada since the mid-1990s.

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