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Friday, November 16, 2012

Jon Clinch's The Thief of Auschwitz

If you know me in real life you know I'm a huge fan of Jon Clinch's books. If you've never read him before, do yourself a favor and pick up Finn and Kings of The Earth, both fantastic, dark and atmospheric reads.

The Thief of Auschwitz is another success for Clinch. The story of a husband, wife and son all barely living in the Auschwitz camp moves back and forth from the stories of all three during the war to the more contemporary voice of the son as he prepares to launch a retrospective of his paintings in New York.  Their stories will not teach you anything new about the horrors of concentrations camp life (unless you've never read a Holocaust account of any kind) but Clinch's special gift of showing the humanity of even the most inhuman of people is once again the strongest part of his work. It's easy to sympathize with the prisoners (and indeed Clinch writes some lines for these characters that will utterly break your heart, I cried my way through several chapters) but Clinch also shows the humanity of the guards and the capos. You won't like these people but there's certainly a sense of "there but for the grace of God..." that will leave readers wondering what they would really do if beating and terrorizing fellow prisoners would save their own loved ones or themselves from the gas chamber.

There's a trick to reviewing Jon Clinch's books that I have never been able to master, and so I don't think my reviews ever do justice to his writing. Of course the plot is strong. Of course the characters feel so real, the danger immediate. Jon Clinch's technical ability to write a story is not in question ever. But that's not why you should read this book.  The beauty of his work is hard to express in a book review, because it's that almost ineffable quality some books have, resisting trite commentary on good plot mechanics and filled-out characters. You read the last page and then you just sit quietly, lest you break their spell. They change you inside, and make you more aware of the humanity around you, all of it, good and bad. And then you want to buy copies for every person you know and make them read the book too.

Just take my word for it and get yourself a copy when the book comes out on 1/15/13. In the meantime, read the other two titles, and enjoy them.

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