The story behind the story

Though it is a fascinating read, Thomas Keneally's memoir leaves readers searching for more.

January 1, 2009 10:57
2 minute read.
The story behind the story

Schindler book 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Searching for Schindler By Thomas Keneally Nan A. Talese 288 pages; $25 More than 25 years after the publication of Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark, which Steven Spielberg adapted into the Academy Award-winning film Schindler's List, comes Keneally's latest, Searching for Schindler. Keneally is a well-established figure in the world of words. In his long and distinguished career, he has been short-listed for and awarded a variety of honors, including the Booker Prize, which he won for Schindler's Ark. The reader is hooked from the first page by both the crisp, straightforward prose of his memoir as well as the utterly charming and colorfully portrayed Poldek Pfefferberg - the man who literally dropped the story of Oskar Schindler into Keneally's hands. Keneally himself also makes for a likable character. But despite the allure, this memoir will leave readers searching for more. Why? In part because there is none of that pleasurable "what will happen next?" pushing us along. We all know the book will be written, we know it will be a success, we know it will be made into a movie. And we know the movie will win awards. So, Keneally's recounting of the bumps in the road along the way feels less rounded than bumps ought to be. While it's an interesting road, it is a meandering one. The reader is introduced to a variety of people and places - all compelling - but we are given the time to get little more than a quick glance at each. Though Searching for Schindler is off to a strong start with the inclusion of Pfefferberg and the amusing interaction between him and Keneally, both men eventually flicker out of focus. Initially, Pfefferberg seems to be an important, if not intrinsic, part of the story. He accompanies Keneally for much of his research, journeying to and through Poland, Germany and Israel, guiding and aiding him in his quest to understand the story of Schindler and his deeds. But Pfefferberg eventually fades from the narrative. Not only is the sudden absence of this previously essential character unexplained, it is deeply felt by the reader. Further, Keneally seems to hold the reader at arm's length. When the distance breaks down, however, the reader is intrigued. Early on in the journey, Keneally says, "I was suddenly in deep. It was where, to be honest, I wanted to be. There was a hunger for more tales of simultaneous horror and deliverance. I did not pause to ask what that said of my nature." It is at moments like this that we see Keneally as a writer who is deeply engaged with the material, who is being shaped by it, in a way, as he is shaping it. At moments like this, we are also deeply engaged. But such pauses for self-reflection, when Keneally himself comes into focus as he ought to in a memoir, come few and far between. Throughout Searching for Schindler, the reader is enticed by the fascinating tidbits. If you haven't yet read Schindler's Ark, you'll want to after you read Keneally's memoir. But if you're searching for Schindler, or Thomas Keneally for that matter, you won't find either man between the covers of this book.

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