Even the very title of the book, My Holocaust by Tova Reich (Harper Collins, $24.95) is intentionally provocative. In truth, the same warnings posted above the gates of particularly nauseating roller-coasters ought to be printed in big letters on the front cover of this novel: This Is Not for The Faint of Heart. Stay Seated, Keep Your Seatbelts Firmly Fastened. There is absolutely no sacred cow that goes unslaughtered by Reich’s rapier wit — she’s a shochet for the best of them, whether it’s self-righteous Holocaust survivors, universal human rights advocates, Palestinians, Israelis, or Jewish nuns.
Yes, Jewish nuns: Nechama, the granddaughter of Holocaust uber-survivor Maurice Messer, has decided to become the ultimate shanda before the goyim. Not only is she turning her back on her Jewish heritage, but she has joined the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, of all places, as a big obscene gesture to her family. And not just her family, but the family business: her grandfather, and her father, Norman Messer, run Holocaust Connections, Inc., a business which sells the moral capital of the Holocaust to the highest bidder, teaching corporations and nonprofits alike how to brand themselves (forgive the pun) with the moral imprimatur of Holocaust legitimacy.
Reich’s novel opens on the ground at Auschwitz, where the wheeling and dealing takes place even in the gas chambers, as Messer and crew attempt to solicit funds for the future United States Holocaust Museum from ignorant-yet-guilty Jewish Americans. (Their confrontation with a boorish Israeli high school class and its rude teacher/chaperone is destined to become a classic.) The novel concludes at the United States Holocaust Museum, where, in the wake of a visit from a prominent terrorist, the universalists claim that the museum should not commemorate just the Jewish Holocaust, but rather, all Holocausts — Native Americans, fur, Palestinian, etc. — and they take the museum and the Holocaust hostage, literally and figuratively.
Reich, no young upstart fresh on the scene, is a well-established award-winning writer in her 50s, the wife of unceremoniously ousted former United States Holocaust Museum director Walter Reich and the sister of activist Orthodox rabbi and rabble-rouser Avi Weiss. She is the insider’s insider, but at no point in the book does she flaunt this status. Her words are hilarious and her plot for the most part seamlessly crafted.
This upsetting and biting book is a wild, brilliant intellectual roller-coaster of a satire. It would be hard to read it and not be offended. Maybe that is precisely the point.
Jordana Horn is a lawyer and journalist at work on her first novel.