Thursday, April 1, 2010

Another milestone

I am on page 370, winding my way through Chapter 13.

The big milestone is Big Mak's first mention of his own experiences as something other than an older person looking at yellowed letters and other archival material. He talks about what he learned about the war at school and how Jews and their actions were largely overlooked in favor of the heroic resistance. Jews were simply victims in that version.

He avoids three major traps:

1. He doesn't yammer on about himself. Too many writers turn everything into an autobiography. An article about the North Pole might devolve into a reflection on last weekend's drinks. In fiction, the writer is always a sympathetic hero, never a villain.

2. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he doesn't overestimate the importance of his own generation. Instead, he correctly places such trends as loosening sexual morality as starting much earlier than the 1950s. Such things happened in a similar way in the US, but Boomers who write the narratives often think that their generation either discovered or invented everything.

3. He looks at his parental generation more accurately than American Boomers ever have. I remember when they were young hippies, cursing their elders as incompetent, unfeeling robots. They aged and went on to write a lot of nonsense about "The Greatest Generation." Mak avoids both useless stereotypes and looks at them as human beings who faced difficult times. Some were heroic and some were not, but all were individuals, not part of a category.

Although this book is very difficult, a lot of it is amazing. I hope there is an English translation. It might stand out now that commemorative "Looking back at the century," books have come and gone. Americans could learn a lot from it.

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