After Auschwitz: A Love Story

Written by Brenda Webster
Review by Nancy J. Attwell

Alzheimer’s and Auschwitz. In this contemporary novel, the sufferings caused by these two ordeals are thoroughly intertwined as 88-year-old Renzo, a highly acclaimed movie director who lives in Rome, writes a memoir about his complicated relationship with his wife, Hannah. It is Renzo’s fear of death that dominates the story and, ultimately, provokes reflection on the magnitude of misery an individual may be willing to endure in order to live a little longer and whether suicide is ever an acceptable escape from the suffering.

Hannah’s childhood was stark even before she was transported from her impoverished Romanian village to Auschwitz when she was twelve. In contrast, Renzo’s upbringing as a scion of a prestigious Italian family was much more comfortable, although he suffered greatly from the consequences of his mother’s mental illness. Their history is slowly revealed through scattered pieces of information as Renzo’s memoir ranges between the present and the past. As layer upon layer of sometimes contradictory facts are given, we come to realize that Renzo is not a reliable source—and not just because he has dementia.

While I do not consider this work to be historical fiction, it is certainly a thought-provoking literary novel. There are so many different facets to ponder, including the reason for subtitling it “A Love Story” when the protagonist’s love for his wife is complicated by a great deal of self-centeredness. All in all, this is a book with depth and breadth that will promote many lively conversations.