But You Did Not Come Back
By Marceline Loridan-Ivens
Faber & Faber – £12.99
”Surviving makes other people’s tears unbearable. You might drown in them.”
But You Did Not Come Back is a spell-bindingly chilling, yet nevertheless utterly beautiful book which absolutely needs to be read. It’s admittedly harrowing in parts, but this is nothing other than a pitiful indictment, if not regal reflection upon the human race of which we all (at times, rather unfortunately) find ourselves a part.
These one hundred pages – which resolutely refuse any form of pathos let alone exposition – touch on the sort of love that is all resounding.
All things one actually wants to believe exists amid the (only occasional) human trait of magnanimous giving and complete unselfishness: ”Far from life, the life that was asking me to live again, a life full of silences, missing people, deception. The life where you didn’t exist.”
In brief, this book is the author’s letter to the father she never know as an adult; although the impact of his influence over her entire adult life, appears seemingly immeasurable.
In every way. In every accountable manner possible.
In brief, the book conveys how, at the age if fifteen in 1944, Marceline Loridan-Ivens was arrested in occupied France, along with her father. They were both sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. When they arrived, they were forcibly separated. Though he managed to smuggle a last note to her via an electrician, she never spoke to him again – the heartbreaking trajectory of which accounts for this book’s poise, power and poignancy: ”When we passed by, some of the women would come closer to the electrified fence and whisper questions to us; they didn’t have their children anymore, but still wanted to hope. We’d ask them if they had a number. No, they’d reply. Then we’d raise our arms to the heavens as a sign of despair. Our tattooed number was our opportunity, our victory, and our shame. I’d helped build the second railway line that led directly to the gas chambers where their children had just been thrown. Now I was going to sort through their clothes.”
Apart from the memory of her father and that of the above, the book is a consistent reminder of just how powerful the human mind is. Countless examples of which are both tender and unbelievable: ”My memory had to shatter, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go on living […]., I’ve always thought it was my fault if they sent her to the gas chamber. Francoise and her beautiful eyes haunted me for a long time, like a reprimand, a sister in misfortune.”
Of this utterly engrossing, unputdownable book, Le Magazine Litteraire wrote: In literature, every so often, there comes a miracle, a book, a text, an author, a writing style, a way of recounting something […] saying things about life and death” – with which it’s nigh impossible to disagree.
A very strong contender for my book of the year.