Book Review: Schindler’s Ark

A massive yellow star emblazons my copy of Schindler’s Ark, an enduring reminder of the horror of the Holocaust that still continues to haunt Europe today. Thomas Keneally’s critically acclaimed novel tells the story of Oskar Schindler, an unlikely opponent to the Nazis during the Second World War. His life is perhaps better known through the harrowing, Oscar-winning film adaptation Schindler’s List, but it’s still well worth it to visit the novel that inspired the film.

Schindler's List
Image credit: Schindler’s List, 1993

Oskar Schindler: a profit-hunting, womanising industrialist whose motives for saving the lives of around eleven hundred Jews are still unknown. He still stands today as a shining example of uncertain and risky resistance to the depraved Nazi regime. As ever, reacquainting myself with the horrors of the Holocaust is a particularly sobering experience. Although the novel should obviously be judged on its merit rather than the history that Schindler’s Ark seeks to portray, it’s hard to separate the history from the historically inclined fiction. To recognise the heartbreaking facts – and by extension, the importance of continuing to honour the victims – is necessary in understanding the novel; this makes the matter of the novel itself seem almost trivial in comparison.

Keneally’s documentation of the story is somewhat peculiar: a novel that mostly appears as an objective historical narrative with the odd fictional flourish, a tale about a protagonist that largely relies upon documentary evidence from a cast of supporting characters. He states in his introduction that he has attempted to avoid all fictionalisation of facts, an imperative that recognises the sensitivity of the period, but which renders the style of the novel slightly stilted, at least at the beginning. This hybrid does, however, act as a testament to the story’s ultimate truthfulness and ensures that the characters are amply represented in their story.

His portrayal combines both deft history in engaging detail and a novelist’s attempt to understand the personalities behind the historical facts. There are so many stories that make up the Holocaust and the Nazi regime, and Schindler’s Ark is just one of a multitude: but it demonstrates the depth and potential of human contribution in such a vital way. It was a thought-provoking read, and one that will undoubtedly remain with me.


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