You're the son of Holocaust survivors. How does your fiction tackle the Holocaust? How does it help keep lessons of the Holocaust alive?
My fiction doesn't fit in with the Holocaust. It only fits in with the post-Holocaust. I have never written about the years 1939-1945, nor would I. I would never fictionalize that period -- it's holy ground and just not appropriate. I only deal with contemporary tales in which the Holocaust functions as a kind of looming dark shadow that continues to affect lives. It speaks to the spiritual damage of the survivors themselves and the next generation.
What does "survivor" mean? Physically, you still have a heartbeat and a pulse and vital signs, but your life is contaminated; it's corrupted by this darkness, by this black hole, by this intimacy with mass death. And your children pick that up too. What is it like then to proceed? To march forward to a world where you have an incredibly fundamental awareness of what was back there, of what was left behind, of all that collective loss? That's the world of my fiction.
My books are unambiguous about what was left behind. Symbols of the Holocaust are often-times reintroduced into my fiction, invoked only to do one of two things: to remind us of their lethal character and to show how these symbols have penetrated our consciousness as symbols of mass death -- both physical and spiritual death in its aftermath. And when they're invoked, sometimes it's for the purpose of being reclaimed by the survivors themselves. I certainly don't refashion these symbols [like some of the artists represented at the Jewish Museum show] into something else that is trivializing, distorting, misleading, diluting, infantilizing, ultimately altering their lethal character.
A lot of what you've written about explores the unspoken -- the silence that so often exists within contemporary Jewish families that include Holocaust victims or survivors when the topic of the Holocaust arises. It seems so difficult to fill in those blanks.
It's not western to think this way, but perhaps some things have to remain unspoken because the quality of it is just so unimaginable, because it requires such faithfulness and fidelity that we try to speak to it in some way, but we can't get truly inside of it, precisely because of its forbidden nature. We want to acknowledge the memory of the loss, but they are black holes. And some of those black holes are just too wide and deep. So that's the point. Do we then try to fill it with this nonsense? Is the Jewish Museum exhibit ["Mirroring Evil"] really a way to help fill the black holes? In my mind, it only widens the gap, because it makes the information that is already unknowable more confusing. More unknowable. The works exhibited don't create clarity; they create distortion. And who's better off because of that?
This sounds like rich fodder for future books.
It's funny you say that, because this new book I finished [, The Golems of Gotham,] is the closing-out of a post-Holocaust trilogy. I had actually planned not to do any more. But maybe you're right. It reminds me of the Godfather, Part III when Pacino says, "I'm trying to leave, then they pull me back in."
The irony of this book is that it is, in fact, an attack against the Jewish Museum and what it's doing, even though it was written long before I ever knew about it. The golems of Gotham, the eight ghosts that reemerge on Manhattan, ultimately riot against the City, even after bringing peace and revival of spirituality and a kind of tenderness and soul. They eventually turn -- like the Golem of Prague did -- precisely because of this desecration of memory; because of this total disregard for pain. This novel is essentially an attack against everything the museum is doing. It's just ridiculously ironic.