Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who saved thousands of Jewish people from death in World War II Poland. His story is well known, thanks to the film adaptation of this book. The book is a realistic, factual, stark portrayal of real human drama. Keneally portrays Oskar as a compassionate savior, but not a saint. He was a womanizer and a heavy drinker. After witnessing violence in a Polish ghetto, he was moved to establish a camp on the premises of his factory, with better conditions for his workers. Still, his workers were not immune to the random acts of violence and murder. During the last year or so of the war, through deft negotiation and subterfuge, he managed to transport thousands of Jews to safety, ensuring their liberation when the war came to an end.
Even though I've read several books about the holocaust, I've been able to distance myself from the reality -- not denying these events occurred, but not facing the brutality, either. This book was different. I'm sure my mind was not as graphic as the film, and I unconsciously protected myself from the worst of it, but I still had to take frequent breaks. There were so many individual, heartbreaking stories; I found myself wondering how it could be classified as fiction. The author's note reads,
"To use the texture and devices of a novel to tell a true story is a course which has frequently been followed in modern writing. It is the one I have chosen to follow here; both because the craft of the novelist is the only craft to which I can lay claim, and because the novel's techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oskar. I have attempted to avoid all fiction, though, since fiction would debase the record, and to distinguish between the reality and myths which are likely to attach themselves to a man of Oskar's stature. Sometimes it has been necessary to attempt to reconstruct conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record. But most exchanges and conversations, and all events, are based on the detailed recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews), of Schindler himself, and of other witnesses to Oskar's acts of outrageous rescue. "
Seems like nonfiction to me ...
I suspect this book won the Booker Prize more on the basis of Schindler's story; the writing itself was not as fine as I'd hoped. And Keneally was rather repetitive regarding Schindler's appetite for women and alcohol. Was he portraying him as "merely human," or admiring him? I found it tiresome, so a book I would normally have rated 4 stars ended up with only 3.