WHITE SPACE BETWEEN by Ami Sands Brodoff
“How can I describe to you what it feels like to have nothing left inside? To become hollow? For months, I could not live, would not die. Not here, nor there. The same man I told you about was with me. I was all alone, except for him. One day when I was too weak to dress, to eat, even to speak, he said to me: ‘Jana, now you fear life as you once feared death. You are more afraid of life than of death.’ ”
Review by Roger Brunyate Â (DEC 3, 2010)
Filling in the gaps. Ami Sands Brodoff opens with an epigraph from Rabbi Avi Weiss: “The Torah is written ‘black fire on white fire’ . . . black fire refers to the letters of the Torah . . . the white refers to the spaces between the letters . . . they are the story, the song, the silence.” Exploring the story, singing the song, reflecting on the silence, these are the promises of this intimate yet ambitious novel, and they are both moving and beautiful. To say that Brodoff does not quite realize them is not to diminish the value of her search. The book is a sincere and obviously personal attempt to illuminate mysteries that may ultimately remain unknowable.
Jane Ives is a retired New Jersey kindergarten teacher. Now over 80, she was born Jana Ivanova in Prague and enjoyed a happy childhood before being caught up in the Holocaust and transported to Terezin and then Auschwitz. There, because of her good German, she became a “Secret Keeper,” typing out false death certificates, including for members of her own family, randomly selecting one of 34 approved “illnesses,” although the cause of death was always the same. Somehow, she survives and comes to MontrÃ©al, living there for two separate periods before she settles in New Jersey, pregnant with her only child, a daughter named Willow.
Jane raises Willow on the “memory books” she has kept of her childhood and life in MontrÃ©al. But there are gaps in the collection of photographs and in the stories that Jane is willing to share: the entire Holocaust period for obvious reasons and, more mysteriously, any details about Willow’s father. Perhaps in order to structure her own stories, Willow becomes a puppeteer, finding it easier to relate to her wood and plaster creations than to real people. When, at the age of 40, she is invited to a theatre collective in MontrÃ©al as artist in residence, she accepts. Coincidentally, Jane is also invited to MontrÃ©al by an organization called the Witness Foundation, to record her memories of the Holocaust. There, in this Northern city that Brodoff obviously loves, as the long winter finally turns to summer, mother and daughter begin their process of rediscovery, emerging from the spiritual hiding that had held them frozen for so long.
The post-Holocaust theme of emerging from a private world of suffering into a life led in public is undoubtedly an important one. It was treated very effectively, for example, by fellow Canadian author Anne Michaels in her Fugitive Pieces. But it requires a difficult balance between the inner life and the outside one that I don’t think Brodoff quite manages. There are too many inconsistencies and outright coincidences. The memory- book sequences of dialogue between mother and daughter work more like prose poems than the record of a real relationship; it is difficult to see Willow as the product of an ordinary American high-school and college. Curiously enough, as she pursues her career as a puppeteer, readers can feel enriched by admission to the arcana of her technical world; it is always fascinating to read about professionals engaged in the minutiae of their craft. But when the same sense of privilege extends to ordinary life, the result is merely distancing and hermetic.
Brodoff’s MontrÃ©al is presented virtually as a Jewish enclave, with hardly a gentile in sight. Yiddish expressions pepper the dialogue, sometimes obvious from the context, but not always. This is a subject that interests me considerably, and I really wanted to share Brodoff’s experience as a fellow human being. But I felt I was being continually pushed away, as though I didn’t belong, whether as a gentile reading a book about Jews, a man reading a book about women, or an adult reading a book intended perhaps for teenagers (as some other imprints from Second Story Press tend to be). Conversely, I responded positively to Willow’s work, as a theatrical artist myself. The best books transcend such coincidental identifications on the part of their readers; this one, I’m afraid, did not.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 13 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Second Story Press (October 1, 2008)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Ami Sands Brodoff|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another take on a Holocaust novel: