Colleen O'Neill Conlan's Reviews > Quiet Americans

Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus
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Jan 27, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: short-stories

I read this when it first came out and decided to reread it in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's always a treat to revisit a good collection of stories and see things I missed the first time around.

These stories are linked generationally and thematically around—but not specifically about—the Holocaust. More, I'd say they are about Jewish identity, and the long and deep scar of the Holocaust. In one story, "The Quiet American," there is a line about the narrator's only remembered German word: "It's Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It's a word that mean, roughly, "coming to terms with the past." And each of the stories attempts this, from different eras and perspectives.

There are few definitives here. Nazis=evil? Yes, but sometimes they may warn a doctor to relocate his family from Germany—soon. Sometimes they even offer a drink and cigar, one of those civilities between gentlemen, even between Nazi and Jew. Sometimes they are young farmboys and POW kitchen boys who have grown fond enough of their Jewish supervisor to wish to witness his son's bris. And while we might assume that women are the gentler sex, here, especially in the earlier stories, they seem a little sharper, a little more skeptical or even unforgiving, while the men seem quieter and perhaps more able to consider the complications they face without seeing them only in black and white.

This is a lovely, thought-provoking, and sometimes devastating collection. The final story, "Mishpocha," is killer. Even though I read it before, and even though I knew what was coming, when I finished reading it (on a ferry on the way to work) I had to cover my face. Absolutely killer.
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