2012: And The Winner Is...

on Monday, December 31, 2012
I'd never heard of the author. The cover design was drab. I had sworn off reading Holocaust-related fiction. Why, then, did I pick up Trieste by Dasa Drndic?

In a year that delivered some pretty great books, none were quite as brilliant as this. Drawing on photographs, biographical snippets, documentary evidence and a multiplicity of innovative narrative techniques, Trieste tells the harrowing story of Haya Tedeschi, an Italian woman caught up in the Nazi machinery as it overruns her country and crushes all that she hold dear. At the start we meet Haya in her twilight years, waiting anxiously for the arrival of a son she long thought dead. It is to be a bittersweet reunion; he is, after all, her son, product of the Lebensborn program, but his very existence reminds her of the horrors of her youth and the man who, despite moments of kindness and decency, was an outright monster. The novel then unfurls into a sprawling account of Haya's desperate struggle to save herself against overwhelming odds.

The emotional and moral complexity of Haya's story demands a great deal from the reader but the effort is well rewarded. Daring in its ambition, ingenious in its structure, Trieste breathes new life into a fairly stagnant genre. One of the Israeli greats (I think it was David Grossman or Amos Oz) once said that the great Holocaust novel has yet to be written. He might still be right, but this is about as close as it we've seen. To my mind, Trieste will now be the benchmark against which all such novels will be judged.

So there you have it. Trieste by Dasa Drndic. A truly worthy winner of Bait For Bookworm's Book of The Year.


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