Lola Ben­sky: A Novel

  • Review
By – October 17, 2013

Lily Brett, a promi­nent Aus­tralian nov­el­ist, essay­ist, and poet, has writ­ten a mov­ing nov­el based on her expe­ri­ences as a child born in a dis­placed per­sons’ camp in Ger­many in 1946. Her par­ents sur­vived six years as a cou­ple in the Lodz ghet­to in Poland, after which they were trans­port­ed to the Auschwitz con­cen­tra­tion camp and sep­a­rat­ed, reunit­ing six months after the end of the war. They had lost all of their pos­ses­sions, and their entire fam­i­lies were mur­dered in the Holo­caust. The hor­rors of these years scarred them emotion­ally, and they nev­er felt safe. Their daugh­ter, Lily, grew up in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, in an atmos­phere of anx­i­ety and sad­ness. After spend­ing her youth trav­el­ing around the world as a rock jour­nal­ist, she embarked on a life-long attempt to under­stand her child­hood and what her par­ents had expe­ri­enced. This now has cul­mi­nat­ed in her nov­el Lola Ben­sky.

Lola Ben­sky is in many ways a mir­ror of Brett. She inter­views artists whom Brett had met and expe­ri­ences many of the same child­hood emo­tions. Even Lola’s cloth­ing choic­es and weight issues are sim­i­lar to Lily’s. Dur­ing her inter­views with var­i­ous rock stars, Lola re­lates par­tic­u­lar­ly graph­ic and appalling sto­ries of the Holo­caust, includ­ing dis­cus­sions of the Hygien­ic Insti­tute in Block 10 in Auschwitz, where the Nazis inject­ed interns with dis­eases and glued women’s wombs shut, and of the camp com­man­dant who threw babies into the air and shot them as his daugh­ter applaud­ed. These were wit­nessed by Brett’s parents.

The emo­tions evoked in both Lola and Lily by their encounter with the Holo­caust became increas­ing­ly pow­er­ful as they aged. In her mid­dle-years, Lola is plagued with agorapho­bia, hypochon­dria, and anx­i­ety attacks, and attrib­ut­es these to her par­ents’ recount­ing of the Holo­caust. Many of the rock stars Lola once knew and inter­viewed had died from vio­lence and drug usage, and as was true of Lily, Lola’s immer­sion in the Holo­caust is so intense that she is unable to con­tin­ue her jour­nal­is­tic career.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing are Lola’s mus­ings regard­ing her life and acquain­tances. She echoes Lily in feel­ing guilty over the opportu­nities pro­vid­ed by a mod­ern and free coun­try when com­pared to what her par­ents had ex­perienced. She often fan­ta­sizes about trav­el­ing back in time to the Holo­caust and res­cu­ing her par­ents from the Nazis, just as Lily did. Even when Lola meets indi­vid­u­als with dis­sim­i­lar back­grounds, she views their activ­i­ties and pri­orities in light of the Holo­caust. Brett success­fully cou­ples Lola’s typ­i­cal teenage anx­i­eties with her iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as a child of Holo­caust sur­vivors to cre­ate a unique char­ac­ter with a deep under­stand­ing of human nature. Read­ers inter­est­ed in the effects of sec­ond­hand trau­ma will find Lily’s nov­el valu­able, as will those nos­tal­gic about the cul­ture of the 1960s and curi­ous about teenage psychology.

Read Lily Bret­t’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

Lily Brett on Inter­view­ing Rock Stars and Not Becom­ing a Lawyer

Lust­ing for Pens and Pencils

Beach Mem­o­ries

Falling in Love in Cologne


Edyt Dick­stein is a grad­u­ate of the Joseph Kush­n­er Hebrew Acad­e­my in Liv­ingston, NJ and is study­ing at Har­vard University.

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