For its victims the holocaust never ends

08 December 2019 - 00:00 By TEVIA ROSMARIN

Testament ****
Kim Sherwood 
Riverrun Press, R195

This holocaust tale is fraught with the trail of emotions built on lies. Among the most pervasive and pernicious consequences of the holocaust has been the inability of survivors to share their horror with their families. The chief protagonist in this book, Joseph Silk, ghosts his way through the book as his lies are peeled away bit by heart-rending bit.

Eva Butler, a 24-year-old student of documentary filmmaking, is the granddaughter, and seemingly sole heir, to famous colour-blind British painter, Joseph Silk. Eva describes a loving, almost too adoring, relationship with him, as well as that between Silk and his thoroughly British wife, Rosemary, who predeceased him. Eva and Silk had begun making a documentary together of his life, wherein he cites the day he landed in England as his birthday, refusing to countenance any further questions on his earlier life.

While sorting through Silk's documents, Eva discovers a letter from a curatorial assistant preparing an exhibit of post-holocaust multidiscipline artists at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. A testament Silk made after the war has been uncovered and the museum wants his permission to add it to their exhibition. Eva is surprised to find anything referring to her grandfather's life before he came to England. Her curiosity is piqued and she pursues this lead to meet Dr Walter in Berlin.

A dual narrative follows; Eva documents her search for her history as we trace the Ziad brothers, Yosip and Laszlo, from Budapest through intimations of Hungarian anti-semitism into the full onslaught of the specifically Hungarian, Serbian and Czech experiences of the horrors of the holocaust. All these plotlines coalesce in Joseph Silk, the mysterious and missing protagonist.

The revelations and narrative follow the questions put to the then Yosip Ziad, the answers to which form his testament.

Sherwood's writing is simple, precise, and vivid yet she weaves a complex tale. She never confuses her characters or lets one historical period bleed into another. There is something clinical about her style - like Silk, in his distant Englishness - she displays some air between herself and her subject matter.

There is no heartfelt warmth or love among the characters that endures after witnessing the cataclysm that clove the 20th century asunder. Yet who can expect it from them? Some of the survivors remain victims, some remember and commemorate their loss, and yet others become perpetrators themselves. It is difficult to share the hell they have experienced. Eva's journey through the book is to learn the truth and to mourn deeply for the family she discovers she has lost.

We may never exhaust the revelations of tragic events that continue to reverberate through our families, our cultures, our nations.