At Memory's Edge is an ambitious and provocative collection of essays with topics ranging from Art Spiegelman's Maus books to, most notably, the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Author James E. Young, an American professor of English and Judaic Studies, was the only foreigner and the only Jew on the committee that selected the design for the German memorial. His behind-the-scenes account of this project's development offers sophisticated answers to some very difficult questions. Young doggedly asks how Berlin can remember a group of people who are no longer at home there, and how Germany can--or should--remember the extermination of Jews once committed in that nation's name. The author's answers to such questions may appear excessively dogmatic to some readers. Early in the book, for example, Young asserts that "memory-work about the Holocaust cannot, must not, be redemptive in any fashion." But his rationale for such sweeping pronouncements is very persuasive. The book is also lavishly illustrated with photographs and architectural drawings that will be a great value to readers who accept the challenge that Young has assumed: "the task of contemplating how to understand a formative historical tragedy of which first-hand memory is rapidly fading." --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
While many critics and commentators point to attempts by the "new Germany" to reconcile itself with its genocidal past, most accounts that make it to these shores come from an outsider's perspective. Young, author of The Texture of Memory and a University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor of English and Judaic studies, was the only foreign and only Jewish member of the commission charged with raising a Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Here, he gives an insider's look at the process that got Daniel Liebeskind's celebrated museum built, and also takes stock of the echoes of the Holocaust he finds in the work of other artists and architects. A chapter on Art Spiegelman's Maus comics, which intersperse autobiography with his parents' Holocaust experiences, finds an ingenious transmission of "the living memory of survivors." Shimon Attie's "hypermediated relationship to the past" translates movingly into his site-specific installations in Europe. Young British artist Rachel Whiteread is interestingly placed among fellow applicants for a German national "memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe." Chapters like "Germany's Holocaust Memorial ProblemAand Mine" (discussing the recent quest for a national monument) are full of wryly sensitive and firm observations. While the book leans more toward academic criticism than general interest nonfiction, those interested in the subject will find Young's treatment accessible and engaging. (June)
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