Holocaust legacy unifies unique novel's stories

September 04, 1996|By Judith Bolton-Fasman | Judith Bolton-Fasman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"It's called legacy," says Adam Posner. "The Holocaust survivor in me was passed on through the genes. Who knows how many generations it will take to cancel this virus from our blood?"

Although Adam is a recurring character, he is different in each of the nine stories that make up "Elijah Visible" (St. Martin's Press, 205 pp. $21.95), a remarkable and original collection of short fiction by first-time author Thane Rosenbaum.

Posner emerges from the narrative's shifting perspective as a fictional anti-hero, one who becomes an unwitting spokesman for his generation -- the children of Holocaust survivors.

Rosenbaum will read from and discuss "Elijah Visible" tonight at 7: 30 at Bibelot Books in Pikesville. Like his protagonist, the 36-year-old Rosenbaum is the son of Holocaust survivors who grew up in New York City and Miami Beach. He stakes new territory in Holocaust literature with his depiction of his own generation.

During a long telephone interview Rosenbaum noted that although "nothing in the book ever happened, I feel that it's all true. Adam Posner and I share this one overarching idea -- that we carry the legacy [of the Holocaust]. That is intuitive and internal, and it is the overriding truth about his life."

By casting his autobiography in fiction, Rosenbaum creates a parallel universe in which he delves into the psyche of the children of survivors without sacrificing plausibility or craft. "Adam is a grotesque portrait, a self-mutilation of Thane Rosenbaum," he says.

Rosenbaum, a lawyer who stopped practicing to write and teach, observes that some of the students in his course on the Holocaust at the New School in New York "have also seemed very Adamesque to me. Like Adam, they don't know themselves."

The lead story of the collection, "The Cattle Car Complex," introduces Adam Posner stuck in an elevator after hours at his law office. Rosenbaum writes, "Adam himself knew a little something about tight, confining space. It was unavoidable. The legacy that flowed through his veins. Parental reminiscences had become the genetic material that was to be passed on by survivors to their children."

In the hands of a lesser writer, the various traumas experienced by the parents might have been reduced to a slow, steady grind in the lives of the children. Rosenbaum, however, pulls a stunning reversal.

At the end of the story, the elevator metamorphoses into a cattle car bound for Auschwitz. But in this generation there is only one passenger. The elevator door opens and an underlying nightmare is vividly realized. The yuppie lawyer is wearing rags, looking like the figure in Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

Throughout the book, Rosenbaum probes the tension between the unique American tradition of assimilation and the need of Holocaust survivors to continuously witness. The title story is a wry yet unflinching indictment of American Jewry. At a family Seder, Adam sorrowfully observes that the Posners are now "a far cry from the family's origins in Poland. Rabbinic grandfathers, observant fathers -- now a generation of fragmented legacies. American torchbearers, skilled in the art of cultural compromise."

In the end, memory has been tragically compromised by this generation of survivors. For the fictional Posners, "there was a conscious avoidance of bringing together those who knew, who had been there, with those of the next generation, who were witness to nothing but the silences, and the screams."

Rosenbaum elaborates that, through his fiction, "I processed my parents' silence. There was a communication of the nightmare without speech. It was inexplicable but there. Adam is my own worst nightmare. He did not have my childhood, but the childhood I can imagine. Thane is like Adam with some fine-tuning."

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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