“Sitrah Akhrah” (The Other Side): What is the Purpose of Holocaust Fiction? Reflections in the Wake of Two Historical Novels by Jonathan Littell and Steve Sem-Sandberg
In the wake of two historical novels – The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg and The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell – this article asks, what is the purpose of Holocaust fiction? The author sees these two inversely symmetrical novels as an attempt to expose the “other side” of Nazism and of the Holocaust. The article praises the novelists for breaking convention and enabling the reader to delve inside the head of a Nazi mass murderer, who happens to be often intelligent, charming, well read, and attractive. And to spend hours in the company of a Jewish leader in the Holocaust who turns out to be a child molester, rapist, thief, glutton, and parasite – a thoroughly despicable and unlikable person. The article does, however, caution readers to bear in mind the existential realities – beyond anything previously imagined – of the period which drove people to act in ways we cannot possibly grasp from our own sheltered vantage point.