Hei­deg­ger’s Glasses

Thaisa Frank
  • Review
By – September 26, 2011

At the heart of this deeply affect­ing nov­el is an his­tor­i­cal fact: The Nazis, in an attempt to con­ceal details of the Final Solu­tion, forced new­ly arrived pris­on­ers at Auschwitz and oth­er camps to write let­ters home, assur­ing rel­a­tives that every­thing was fine. The author imag­ines that, due to super­sti­tion and the Nazi predilec­tion for record­keep­ing, a com­pound of Jews flu­ent in dif­fer­ent lan­guages is estab­lished to answer these let­ters, even though the vast major­i­ty of the intend­ed recip­i­ents have already been killed. Although the sur­re­al exis­tence of these Scribes” is depict­ed in detail, the emo­tion­al focal point of the sto­ry revolves around the rela­tion­ship of the two non-Jew­ish pro­tag­o­nists who attempt to keep them safe. 

The cen­tral ten­sion of the nov­el involves a let­ter which the philoso­pher Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger sends to his optometrist, not real­iz­ing that the man has been deport­ed to Auschwitz. To hide this fact, the Scribes are asked to devise a plau­si­ble response, and events take a dan­ger­ous turn. 

The author makes effec­tive use of short, clipped dia­logue to con­vey a per­va­sive sense of dread and dan­ger, and the com­pelling char­ac­ters and plot pull the read­er into the sto­ry. In addi­tion, let­ters from con­cen­tra­tion camp inmates at the start of each chap­ter pro­vide a con­stant reminder that one of the most sear­ing expe­ri­ences of the Holo­caust was the forced sep­a­ra­tion of loved ones. With­out resort­ing to scenes of car­nage, the author reminds us of a time when the feel­ing of safe­ty was just a dis­tant memory.

Shi­ra R. Lon­don is the librar­i­an at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Com­mu­ni­ty High School in Bal­ti­more, MD. She holds an M.L.S. from Colum­bia University.

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