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.