DIARY OF THE FALL: Symphonic, Beautifully Rendered

Diary of the FallDiary of the Fall by Michel Laub
translated by Margaret Jull Costa
~post by Ben


It’s a word that has come to mean so much more than the place it was meant to represent. Michel Laub’s The Diary of the Fall, approaches the complexity of living as a Jew in the twenty-first century with tenderness and intention. Laub has created a novel which guides us through the fallout of the Holocaust through the deeply personal relationships between a grandfather, a father, and a son in Brazil, capturing the rawness and paradox of the tragedies that fill our lives.

In the same way that venom works long after the bite, The Diary of the Fall is a slow-working and affecting novel. This is not to say that its pacing lags. Quite contrarily, Laub leads us feet first into a singular and defining moment in the narrator’s life as he and his friends injure the only Catholic student at their Jewish school during a cruel prank. Rather, it’s that as we move through one tragedy to another, from the remnants of a childhood mistake to the life of a Auschwitz survivor, we round back to the same pain we felt when the fangs first marked us. We are ignorant to scope of the damage, the extent at which the toxins have affected us, until we reach the end and feel our own organs turn against us. Diary of the Fall is almost symphonic in its construction and its effects are lasting. Even as the days turn to weeks since I finished Laub’s latest novel, I can still feel its echoes in my core.

One of Granta’s twenty Best Young Brazilian Novelists in 2012, Michel Laub is a writer who’s been on the US literary radar, though this is his first novel to be published in English. He has written four other novels, and The Diary of the Fall has already won the Brasilia Award and the Bravo!/Badesco Prize. It’s unfortunate that the US is so late in bringing Laub’s work to its readers. His talent is clear and the prose indicates a master’s touch. The structure and repetition utilized in The Diary of the Fall hints at a clarity of vision that only comes on full display upon the conclusion of the novel without sacrificing the emotional honesty which is evident throughout.

Laub’s portrayal not only of Brazil, but youth and fatherhood, make this an deeply personal account which aptly reflects its title. The evolution of thought and progressing revelations in The Diary of the Fall demonstrate the reluctance of our narrator, the pain and its processing in our narrator’s mind as it relates to the tragedies we face in our own lives. That when we begin to understand, at least in some slight degree, what it is like to live in that shadow, we see what it’s like for Auschwitz to mean everything and nothing at once, the cycles and the triggers which cause us to break away from them. Or as Laub states: “how the world should be” and “how things really were.”

Vulnerable and empowering, Laub shows us that, as long as we are human, there will always be value in what we have to say. That no matter what has caused it, pain is viable and real, and that we can trace its scars long after the wound has healed. The Diary of the Fall is a superb and beautifully rendered novel. I’ve no doubt it will stay with me until the release of the next translation of Laub’s work. I can only hope that his next title comes soon.

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