Ear­li­er this week, Ruth Franklin wrote about shar­ing a stage with Yann Mar­tel and dis­cussed whether any­thing new can be said about the Holo­caust. She is the author of A Thou­sand Dark­ness­es: Lies and Truth in Holo­caust Fic­tion.

One of the demor­al­iz­ing things about writ­ing a book about Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture is how much of it there is out there. Over the past few years, when I’ve told peo­ple about my book, they invari­ably respond with: Oh, have you read _____? It’s the most dev­as­tat­ing testimonial/​most essen­tial work of history/​most beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten nov­el I’ve ever read about the Holo­caust.” And then I have to admit that no, not only have I not read _____, I’ve nev­er even heard of it, and shame­faced­ly add yet anoth­er item to my list.

In some cas­es, I’ve been able to rec­ti­fy these deficits. After Stan­ley Kauff­mann alert­ed me to Piotr Rawicz’s amaz­ing Blood from the Sky, a sur­re­al­ist nov­el about a young man who goes into hid­ing in Ukraine, I devot­ed a chap­ter of my book to it — the first sus­tained crit­i­cism of this nov­el to appear in Eng­lish. I’m hop­ing it will inspire read­ers to become more famil­iar with Rawicz’s work, which is bril­liant, exper­i­men­tal, and in some places sear­ing­ly fun­ny. In my favorite scene, the main char­ac­ter under­goes a cit­i­zen­ship test” in prison to prove that he is Ukrain­ian. After a hot debate on the minu­ti­ae of pol­i­tics, lit­er­a­ture, and cul­tur­al pride, he emerges the win­ner. That’s no Jew,” his inter­locu­tor declares. Take my word for it. He couldn’t be. He’s trash, of course…. But he isn’t a Jew.”

But oth­er writ­ers didn’t come to my atten­tion until my book had already gone to press. This is the case with H.G. Adler, whose 1962 nov­el The Jour­ney was pub­lished in Eng­lish by Ran­dom House last year. I noticed the book, put it aside, and prompt­ly for­got about it until a few weeks ago, when the gal­ley of anoth­er new­ly trans­lat­ed Adler nov­el appeared in my mail­box. Strik­ing­ly mod­ernist, Panora­ma, which orig­i­nal­ly appeared in 1968, is struc­tured as a series of ten snap­shots from the life of Josef Kramer, a Jew in Prague. I found it imme­di­ate­ly haunt­ing and affecting.

Adler, I learned from the book’s intro­duc­tion by Peter Filkins (who is also the trans­la­tor), was born Prague in 1910 and spent two and a half years in There­sien­stadt before being deport­ed to Auschwitz, where his wife and par­ents died. After being lib­er­at­ed from a labor camp near Buchen­wald, he lived as an exile in Lon­don for the rest of his life. What makes his intel­lec­tu­al project unique is that he adopt­ed what Filkins calls a bifur­cat­ed strat­e­gy” towards the Holo­caust, approach­ing it through both fact and fic­tion in a way that no oth­er writer has done. His notes on life in There­sien­stadt, which he left with Leo Baeck for safe­keep­ing before his depor­ta­tion to Auschwitz, were pub­lished as the extra­or­di­nary 900-plus-page mono­graph There­sien­stadt, 1941 – 45, a defin­i­tive doc­u­men­tary his­to­ry of the camp. But Adler was also the author of five nov­els about his expe­ri­ences dur­ing the war, which he wrote in a burst of cre­ativ­i­ty in the ten years after lib­er­a­tion. Panora­ma is the first of these; The Jour­ney is the last.

Adler’s obscu­ri­ty — his work is men­tioned in no stan­dard ency­clo­pe­dias or guides to Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture — can be blamed part­ly on his pub­li­ca­tion dif­fi­cul­ties: Peter Suhrkamp, then the head of the major Ger­man pub­lish­ing house Suhrkamp Ver­lag, went so far as to say that The Jour­ney would nev­er appear in print as long as he was alive. (The book was writ­ten in 1950 – 51 but remained unpub­lished till 1962, three years after Suhrkamp’s death, at which point it was imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized as a mas­ter­piece.) Filkins writes that nei­ther Ger­many nor the world was ready for nov­els about the Holo­caust in the 1950s” — an opin­ion with which Raw­icz, writ­ing in France only a few years lat­er, would cer­tain­ly have con­curred. Part of the oppo­si­tion to Adler’s work undoubt­ed­ly had to do with the fact that, like Rawicz’s, its project is explic­it­ly aes­thet­ic rather than tes­ti­mo­ni­al. (“This book is not a his­tor­i­cal record,” Raw­icz wrote in the epi­logue to his nov­el. If the notion of chance … did not strike the author as absurd, he would glad­ly say that any ref­er­ence to a par­tic­u­lar peri­od, ter­ri­to­ry, or race is pure­ly coin­ci­den­tal. The events that he describes could crop up in any place, at any time, in the mind of any man….”) Then as now, crit­ics and read­ers of Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture tend to feel most com­fort­able with works that are thor­ough­ly ground­ed in fact: fic­tion is desta­bi­liz­ing and dis­ori­ent­ing. But the life and work of H.G. Adler demon­strates how thor­ough­ly imag­i­na­tion and mem­o­ry can sup­port and enrich each other.

Ruth Franklin’s A Thou­sand Dark­ness­es: Lies and Truth in Holo­caust Fic­tion is now avail­able. She has been blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Ruth Franklin is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at The New Repub­lic and a lit­er­ary crit­ic. Her writ­ings have also appeared in The New York­er, The New York Times Book Review, Gran­ta, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She lives in Brook­lyn, NY.