The biblical Psalm 44 asks why God has abandoned his people, who kept the covenant. This Holocaust novel explores the same question. First published in 1962, this early effort (written at age 25) is the last of acclaimed Serbian novelist Kiš’ (1935-1989) novels to be translated into English. It is both overdue and worth the wait.
Marija, an inmate in a concentration camp (Auschwitz where Kiš’ father died), has recently given birth. She has joined a planned escape effort and hopes to be reunited with her lover Jakob, a Jewish doctor pressed into service of the camp’s Mengele-like Dr. Nietzsche. The novel revolves around Marija’s point of view in the few days before, during and after the mission. Help comes by way of Maks, the death camp’s übersurvivor, and the thundering of Allied forces in the distance. When Marija, Jakob and their son return to Auschwitz after the war, it has become a tourist curiosity: “a group being led by a docent stopped in front of the cases with the little malformed creatures and listened to the monotone explanation, as professional and as indifferent as could be.”
Psalm 44 is replete with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. Added to the stream-of-consciousness technique, it requires full attention. But the effort will be rewarded by illuminations of the sanctity of individual sovereignty. To quote Toni Morrison, “That, my dear, is called reading.”