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Friedman, Carl

FRIEDMAN, Carl

Nationality: Dutch. Born: Caroline Friedman, Eindhoven, 29 April 1952. Career: Worked as a translator in Antwerp, Belgium. Journalist, Amsterdam. Address: c/o Persea Books, 171 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Tralievader. 1991; as Nightfather, 1994.

Twee koffers vol [Two Suitcases Full]. 1993; as The Shovel and the Loom, 1996.

Short Stories

De grauwe minnaar: Verhalen. 1996; as The Gray Lover: Three Stories, 1998.

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Film Adaptations:

Nightfather, 1995; Left Luggage, 1998, from the novel The Shovel and the Loom.

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Carl Friedman has written two novels concerning the Holocaust, Nightfather (1994) and The Shovel and the Loom (1996), both translated from the Dutch. The protagonist of each novel is, like Friedman herself, a daughter of Holocaust survivors who struggles to make sense of life after the Holocaust.

Friedman's work is part of a growing body of literature written by the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors. While some second-generation writers, such as Art Spiegelman and Helen Epstein , chronicle their parents' experiences in nonfiction works, Friedman confronts the Holocaust in novel form. Her novels share many of the same themes of other second-generation fiction: the relationship between parent and child, the emotions of the second generation, the impossibility of fully comprehending the horror of the Holocaust. What distinguish Friedman's novels from other second-generation literature are their form and the distinctiveness of their voice.

Both Nightfather and The Shovel and the Loom are short and intense novels, whose simplicity in form belies the sophistication of their concerns. They provide emotional snapshots, moments of connection and confusion taken from the lives of their protagonists. Their plots are simple, but the issues they raise are complex and compelling, a combination that makes these novels particularly suitable for classroom study.

Both of Friedman's novels feature protagonists at significant moments in their development. The daughter of Nightfather is a young schoolgirl just beginning to make sense of her family's difference from other families. The Shovel and the Loom features a woman of 20 just beginning her adult life. Friedman creates her protagonists in moments of flux, as they work to articulate who they are and how the Holocaust affects their identities. By emphasizing the ways in which her characters wrestle with the legacy of the Holocaust, Friedman invites the reader to engage in a similar struggle. Thus, while Friedman's novels feature the children of Holocaust survivors, the concerns they raise are clearly relevant to a broader post-Holocaust audience.

This helps to explain how Friedman avoids turning her protagonists' questions into pathologies. The daughters grapple, but they are not plagued; neither wishes for different parents. This is a significant accomplishment on the part of the author, for it is difficult to acknowledge the enormous pain of the Holocaust, passed down between generations, without portraying the second generation as wounded and in need of repair. Indeed, other second-generation protagonists, such as those in the works of Thane Rosenbaum and J.J. Steinfeld, often seem much more tormented. Friedman's novels sound a different emotional key, one that suggests that the children of Holocaust survivors bear a crucial knowledge about the world. Her characters carry an understanding of the fragility of life and a concern for evil and goodness that is not shared by others. In Friedman's work the pathology lies with the world that created the Holocaust and that continues to fail in its efforts to come to terms with what happened.

Friedman thereby presents the second generation as vital witnesses to the Holocaust. While the term "witness" is generally used to describe Holocaust survivors, Friedman's fiction reveals that the second generation too has a story to tell. Both parent and child are witnesses, albeit to a different experience. The survivors' stories are never eclipsed in these works, nor are their stories simply carried by the second generation. Rather, each generation is affected by the experiences of the other. Focusing on the children of survivors, Friedman's novels ask what it means to live after the destruction in a world that has largely moved on. There may be no question more important for the reader to face.

—Rachel N. Baum

See the essays on Nightfather and The Shovel and the Loom.

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