Starving Review: I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust by Mathias B. Freese

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I Truly Lament: Walking Through the Holocaust by Mathias B. Freese (Amazon, Goodreads)

Not all literary meals are laid out on the table purely for the stuffing of the reader’s face with new entertainment.  Some have a purpose behind their creation and other recipes are crafted to bring the reader an important message or a deep feeling as he sits chewing the fat.  I’ve reviewed at least one book like this before so it’s not a stranger to this Starving Reviewer and I have another such literary meal at my table today.  The message and the event it seeks to fill our taste buds with is older but even stronger than the previous book.  I Truly Lament deals with one of the great and terrible tragedies of the 20th Century: the Holocaust.  Does it perform its mission admirably?  Let’s find out.

But first!  The Starving Review creed!

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

This Starving Review is going to be short, folks, and not as humorous as most of mine.  It simply comes down to the fact that there are few subjects more serious than attempted genocides of a people.  The Holocaust is horrific and there’s little desire on my part to make light of it, even if it would only be indirectly.  Even worse is the prospect that it was not the first and far from the last ethnic cleansing to happen in our world.  That’s the ultimate tragedy of it all.  So before I get overly emotional or start shaking my fist angrily at the heavens and shout ‘WHY?!’ dramatically (okay, so there will be a LITTLE humor), let’s get this done!

Lament is an anthology-style novel, consisting of a series of short stories that runs through a wide swath of viewpoints, concepts, and premises all related to the Holocaust.  Some even venture into the sci-fi and fantasy premises, such as time-travel, and that adds some rather intriguing flavors to those stories.  There are a large number of stories in the book so I will not try to itemize a list of each story and weight each on its own pros and cons.

What I will say is that Mr. Freese is a talented and insightful chronicler here and is good at bringing each unique flavor from each story into its own life.  That, over so many different tales, he manages such a strong consistency in his writing speaks volumes for the book’s overall quality.

As far as the subject matter itself, Lament handles it with some distinctly Jewish insights as well as a good attention to historical detail.  Those points add extra heft to the stories, making them each seem a bit more vivid and life-like.  No punches are pulled, either emotional or descriptive, and I, as a reader, appreciate that.  Something as terrible as this deserves no whitewashing or sugar coating.

If there is any real flaws in the collection, it is simply that, as all anthology works, even the best author is not one-hundred percent consistent in quality.  A few of the tales simply don’t resonate as strongly as others or seem a bit forced in concept.  It’s simply the nature of the beast and one that doesn’t detract significantly from the overall quality of Lament, especially as most of the stories are quite brief.  It’s easy work to chew past the occasional bits of blander flavor to get to the better bits.

So, end of the meal, how was Lament?  There is both bitterness and sweetness, courage and cowardice, and by the last bite, this collection of tales gets its messages about the Holocaust across.  That, above all things, is the most important metric to measure such a book by.  If you want to gain a deeper insight to the Jewish perspective on the Holocaust, are a general student of World War II, or simply want to broaden your mind about the world, I can highly recommend this read.  Just remember, this is a book about horrific things.  The imagery can be disturbing and the language coarse so if that offends you, well, there’s nothing to be done for it.

FINAL VERDICT: ***** (Bitterness mixed with sweetness, courage mixed with cowardice.)

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2 comments

  1. My mother amassed a very eclectic personal library, none of which was ever off-limits to me. In a home movie of my first-birthday party, you can see behind me the beginning of that library: two small bookcases packed with grown-up books, all within reach of a teething toddler.

    One book I remember browsing as a child (I don’t recall at what age), was titled “This Must Not Happen Again!” I don’t remember ever having read any of the text, but it was full of photos of WWII atrocities. It didn’t give me nightmares, but I did feel sad.

    Interesting, what can bring back memories…. Good review!

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