The Shovel and the Loom
With remarkable economy and the acuity of a Salinger, Carl Friedman creates a fictional world so insistently present that it stays with the reader, like the all-encompassing worlds of lengthy novels by the nineteenth-century realists. Her subjectmatter is the sufferings of the Shoah, which has left its stamp on her characters’ lives long after the Second World War is over. Friedman has a simple yet refined ability to blend the everyday lives of ordinary people with the great themes of the twentieth century.
Twenty-year-old Chaja, the talented central character of The Shovel and the Loom, is a philosophy student in Antwerp in the upbeat 1960s. She immerses herself in philosophy but feels increasingly fascinated by the horrific story of Antwerp’s Jews, particularly her parents, who both survived Auschwitz. Her exploration of the fate of the Jews, of the disastrous course of history, ultimately leads her to distance herself from philosophy. This is an intelligent literary exploration of the degree to which we are connected to our parents’ pasts and how history shapes our lives.