Apr 7, 2012

The Fiftieth Gate

For English Advanced, I have to read The Fiftieth Gate. It's a book by Mark Raphael Baker and explores his parents' history as Jews that survived the World War. I'm not even half way through it yet (just started yesterday). There are so many gems in the book, sentences and passages that resonate. Some parts outright made me break into goosebumps.

This is a passage that actually made me cry:
They come waving their waving their flags, a contingent of Israeli students bearing the blue and white colours of a prayer shawl, at whose centre lay a Star of David. They observed the boulders from a distance, but do not lose themselves within the maze. They have no single thing to find here, just the whole cursed site. They stand as a group, establishing a new focal point against Warsaw, a unified entity at a distance from the dispersed villages. A girl stepped forward with a flute, and plays for the students who accompany her melody in mournful voices. She plays 'Hatikvah', the Israeli national anthem: 'The Hope'. Then another student stands outside the circle and recites a Hebrew verse: 
here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i
 I recognise the poem from Dan Pagis, a Rumanian-born survivor who emigrated to Israel. 'Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car', it is called.
The student completed his recital, and then another voice speaks the same words, each time stopping before the sentence is completed. 'Tell him that i ...' Another plea, then another, until every member of the group proclaims the unfinished message.
When I returned to our hotel in Warsaw, I recited the poem for my parents.
My mother says the train must have arrived.
My father says: 'When I was taken away from my mother she said nothing.'
I wanted to break the silence for him, to force him to look back for his mother, Hinda.
He is crying; I look away.
here in this carload
i am Hinda
tell him that i 
The poem is on the net here.

He establishes an eerie sort of mood and atmosphere that brings together the past and present, the personal and the factual. There's a strong sense of memory, like old books and ancient records and faded photographs.

What it comes down to is that he has a writing style that I personally like, and the subject matter has always been of interest to me. For a compulsory English course book, it could certainly be a lot worse.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, to be honest, after reading that, I didn't feel like crying yet, probably because I haven't read the beginning, or understood the context.

    But yes, the mood is really well established. The way you described it in your post was really nice and pretty *D*