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Book Notes: Sepharad by Antonio Munoz Molina

Image Source: Concentration Camp by Aspius
"Generalizations are harmful, I should know, but the real problem is our species, We’re aggressive primates much more dangerous than gorillas or chimpanzees; we carry cruelty and the will to dominate in our brains, and we get the oldest part of the brain from our reptile ancestors. I know the story that’s going around, that in the evolution of the species the instinct for cooperation has served us better than the law of the survival of the fittest. Except that some primates cooperate to wipe others out."
-from Sepharad - p. 316
Antonio Munoz Molina
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden
Copyright 2001 Harcourt Publishing Co. Florida

I do not know what attracted me to Nazi literature eversince I read Viktor Frankl's 1946 book Man's Search for Meaning which chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and described his everyday struggles of finding reasons to live despite the horrors of the death camp. That book teaches us how to find meaning in the midst of extreme suffering. Frankl also concludes that there are only two races of men, decent men and indecent. Therefore, no country is free of either of them, and thus there were "decent" Filipino policemen and "indecent" HongKong employers. So, let us not hate each other. (I was thinking of writing a commentary about that Manila hostage crisis but I’m sure at this time, nothing was left unsaid – so let us move on.)

I already watched many movies relating to Hitler, the war and the concentration camps and the Jews, such as The Boy in  Striped Pajamas, Valkyrie, Stalingrad and a lot more. Therefore, when I came across this book in BookSale SM Megamall (yes, I usually buy second hand books), I immediately bought it.
However, it took me a month to finish reading this book, because this is not an ordinary novel, and not an easy read. It is like cross-stitching which requires hardwork to form an amazing piece. In this novel, Antonio Munoz Molina tells 17 different stories about the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, the Death Camps and the local Sephardic diaspora. He writes about the way memories overlap and interconnect, thread by thread. A sense of salvaging memory. Lives that deserves to be told – fade from memory as if they never existed. The novel is like a dark eulogy to the “disappeared.” Molina artfully incorporates the narratives of those who suffered through the Nazi or Soviet terrors or both – part fiction part history.

This novel also reflects some old truths that are present even in our modern world. We meet people everyday, our officemates, friends and thousands of strangers in the street. If we commit something wrong or just being wrongly accused, will they hide us when the authorities come or will they betray us? This novel tells us that we can never be sure of them, or of ourselves. 

Quotable Quote From the Book: (Quote about Travel)
"I don’t believe it’s true what they say, that as you travel you become a different person. What happens is that you grow lighter, you shed your obligations and your obligations and your past, just as you reduce everything you possess to the few items you need for your luggage. The most burdensome aspect of our identity is based on what others know or think about us. They look at us and they know what they know, and in silence they force us to be what they expect us to be, to act according to a certain habits our previous behavior has established, or according to suspicions that we weren’t aware we have awakened."  --p. 22, Sepharad: character musings--

Book Review/Resources for Sepharad, Antonio Muñoz Molina 
[compiled by: Yodz de Veas Insigne]

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