Playwright of Refugee Life – George Tabori


Today or tomorrow, I shall be taken to the camp.

May God help me to overcome this too.

—Regina Kandt, Last Letters from the Holocaust: 1941

Courtesy of Getty Images

The theatre’s nature is one of bringing people together, which makes it an apt medium to fuel collective memories. The type of theatre that best depicts the Holocaust is one that can provoke mourning for the victims and, at the same time, force the spectator to look within himself and ask himself if there is in him something of an executioner or of his accomplice. This is what George Tabori beautifully accomplishes in his plays The Cannibals, Mein Kampf and My Mother’s Courage.


Hungarian by birth, a writer in English, and a director (with occasional spouts of acting in German), Tabori combined his experience of British and American life with the cultural traditions of central Europe. What makes him so exceptional is not his widely known work as a translator and adapter of Bertolt Brecht, nor is it his screenplays of several Hollywood films, including the ones directed by Alfred Hitchcock—it is his experience. Would-be writers are often advised to rely on their own experiences when looking for a fresh subject matter. But there are a few writers that have as much rich material to draw on as George Tabori. His father was a prominent journalist who was arrested by the Nazis and was later killed in Auschwitz. His mother, however, managed to talk her way out of deportation to Auschwitz. Her story is told in Tabori’s play My Mother’s Courage and in the fiction film with the same name, directed by Michael Verhoeven (in which Tabori appears on screen through much of the film). Read More

Review: The Clandestine Poems by Roque Dalton

It is the 10th of May 1975, in San Salvador. The People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) executes Vilma Flores, Timothy Lúe, Jorge Cruz, Juan Zapata, and Luís Luna. Five deaths, but only one body. These five young people were, in reality, the five identities of Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton; they were the protagonists of his last and most memorable collection, Clandestine Poems.

The collection consists of five chapters, each containing the poems of one of his identities. Dalton conjures these personalities from the distilled ethos of ideal Marxist soldiers in the war against “oppressive capitalism.” The roots of this history run deep in each of his personas. Take, for instance, Flores—the law student turned textile worker turned freedom fighter. Channeling Dalton’s own experience as a Law student in Chile, Flores epitomizes Dalton’s struggle to relate the revolutionary movement to women (who were the least educated at the time). Hence, the poems of Flores are the most humanistic and least intellectual, with examples like, “The woman’s domestic functions/ create time for the man/ for socially necessary work,” and “no one disputes/ that sex is a domestic condition/ …where the hassles begin/ is when a woman says/ sex is a political condition.” Read More

Review: My Real Name Is Hanna

I am beginning to realize that freedom means you can be who you are meant to be, whatever that is. . . That breathing without any thought to it is a gift. Now, I think about breathing all the time. What is it like to take your last breath? What if the sound of it gave you away?

Tara Lynn Masih has dedicated five years of research and writing into her first novel—My Real Name Is Hanna. The narrative is set in the years of World War II in which fifty-six countries were involved between 1939 and 1945. At the heart of the disputes were rising nationalism, fascism, and unresolved territorial boundaries. Germany and Italy were seeking to control Europe, and in Asia, Japan was expanding its territory by invading the Pacific. From German U-boats and Panzers to Japanese Kamikaze and American atomic bombs destruction and death ruled. Estimates vary about the number of lives lost during the war, but the consensus is that roughly 62 million people died, including the estimated 12 million in the Holocaust. The historical narrative of World War II is distorted with every generation, but one thing remains constant—the stories of the people who survived it.

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Review: Transit of Venus (Poetry Anthology)

Courtesy of Tyler Wanlass

In 2012, three poets from Germany flew to New Zealand to witness the transit of Venus across the Sun, recreating the 1769 journey of Captain James Cook, who had sailed to Tahiti not only to record the transit but to continue further on to find the fabled hidden land of the Pacific. It was this onwards journey that led to the European discovery of New Zealand, paving the way to the colonialization of the South Pacific.

What these German poets wrote on their travels came to form part of the poetry volume The Transit of Venus. I had come across and purchased the volume at Arty Bee’s bookstore in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, not only because of its relevance in a country coming to grips with the wrongs of colonialization but also because of the cover art. The front cover shows a black dot set adrift among the off-pink orb of the sun—and it is fitting for the poetry within, which drifts and crosses in front of the eyes as if it is on a trajectory to something far more important than to merely live on the pages of this collection. More importantly, however, this artwork reflects the nature of the country that has been my adopted home for over 20 years—a land itself in transit, attracting tourists in droves for its natural beauty, only for them to find a nation with far more to offer than just a breathtaking exterior. Read More

Review: No Longer Human

Depression has to be one of the hardest subjects to tackle in fiction. It presents a peculiar set of problems, in that if a piece of writing is to be effective it must grab the reader. It has to do so with energy. Some form of sustained momentum is necessary to propel the reader through the text. An aspect, any aspect, must engage them, and invite them to stay, chapter by chapter, line after line. And what makes this so difficult for writers who choose depression as their subject is that it is an affliction characterized largely by a subject’s inability to summon a feeling of interest.

To the depressed person, nothing is of interest. Nothing manages to grip them. The sadness they feel doesn’t manifest as a sharp pain or sorrow, but a flatness, an absence. An all-encompassing lack. The body is there, held in place, going through its day, its motions, and that numbness just swirls away inside them. The question for the author writing about this tragic, unbelievably difficult state of being is: how do you do the concept of such emptiness justice, when your only option is to fill blank pages with a pile of words?

This is the task Osamu Dazai set for himself in his novel No Longer Human. It is the story of a deeply sad, self-conscious person. Someone whose every action is lorded over by their own overwhelming shame and fear. Having finished it, I’d say Dazai achieved what he set out to do. But it’s hard to know where to go from there. Read More

Review: Pencil Letter by Irina Ratushinskaya

You must not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to hate. Not because your tormentors have not earned it. But if you allow hatred to take root, it would flourish and spread during your years in the camps, driving out everything else, and ultimately corrode and warp your soul. You will no longer be yourself, your identity will be destroyed, all that will remain will be a hysterical, maddened and bedevilled husk of the human being that once was.

Ratushinskaya, from Grey Is the Colour of Hope

In March 1983, on her 29th birthday, Irina Ratushinskaya was sentenced to seven years in a hard-labour camp for crimes against the Soviet regime. What was so terrible a crime that the authoritarian government of Konstantin Chernenko thought to sentence a former schoolteacher and physics graduate to a seven-year maximum sentence in harrowing and torturous conditions? The crime was poetry.

Born in Odessa, she wrote poetry while working as a schoolteacher before graduating with a Masters of Physics in 1976 (deciding to pursue a technical profession due to the oppression of the humanities by the then-communist regime), and she continued to write poetry after receiving her degree. Even though her early work centred on the theological, romantic, and philosophical, it was still enough to warrant the inquisition of the Soviet power structure. Read More

Review: A Jihad for Love by Mohamed El Bachiri

Part autobiography, part ideology, part diary, A Jihad For Love is emotionally charged. The collection is an eloquent plea to those who judge Islam or twist its nature to the purpose of committing devastating criminal acts, and also to those who practice it in its many forms—to not take its teachings literally, but to apply its tenets in the context of the modern world. It implores followers to follow a path where the teachings of Islam do not conflict with the world we all have to inhabit.

It was on a Tuesday morning, the 22nd of March 2016, when commuters at Maalbeek metro station in Brussels awaited the Arts-Loi/Kunst-Wet connection. The platform bustled with commuters undertaking their daily pilgrimages to work; parents carried children, men and women read the papers, and buskers played music as the crowds mingled. At 9:10 am, they began to board the three carriages whose doors had just opened. At 9:11 am, some of them would be dead. As the train readied to depart, an explosive device planted in the middle carriage of the three detonated, rending apart its fragile metal surroundings, and within a second, sixteen lives were extinguished. Read More

Review: The Best Small Fictions 2017

What do you read if you don’t have the time to read a book like War & Peace? Luckily, much like the modern world, where immediacy and quick fixes are all the rage, literary greatness can be found in writings of a much more digestible length. Flash fiction stories still wield a philosophical heft and still leave the reader mulling on greater questions, but are restricted to far more compact length limits. Hard-hitting and captivating, they are usually no longer than a few pages and combine the storytelling of the great works with the ability to be read in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee (or even just the time to take a sip!). So, if the burden of reading Atlas Shrugged isn’t for you, then The Best Small Fictions 2017 may be the answer.

Back for its third year, this anthology of the best international flash fiction of 2017 is a heavyweight collection of emotion-laden injections of pure fiction heroin. The wholly volunteer team at TBSF have drawn together some of the most compelling flash fiction, and they have shown once again why this is not a genre to be scoffed at. With fifty-five stories, the volume is enthralling. Even as a lover of long detail-abundant stories, I found myself unable to put the collection down, forcing myself to stop reading only so that I could digest the content and ruminate on what the stories left unsaid, before once again entering the rabbit hole of content squeezed between the covers. Read More