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Village of a Million Spirits: A Novel of the Treblinka Uprising Paperback – April 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1ST edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140290338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140290332
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,280,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Village of a Million Spirits is set in what one of its characters calls "the most heavily populated quarter-square mile on earth"; the only difference, he tells us, is that "95 percent of the people were spirits." That village is Treblinka, where Jewish prisoners--the lucky ones--cooperate in their own extinction, while those who are strong enough dream of revolt. Here we meet 14-year-old Janusz, whose genius lies in being nondescript; Anatoly, the Ukrainian guard with oversize ears and a burning hatred of his German superiors; Magda, Anatoly's girlfriend, who spends the entire novel giving birth to his child; and the German officer Voss, who drinks his way into an obsession with Jewish gold. All coexist in a camp rendered with nightmarish realism, their minds fixing on almost any detail that might provide a moment's relief: meaningless coincidences, the smell of pine sap, priceless stamps dropped in the snow.

Time after time, Ian MacMillan introduces a character only to lead him shortly afterwards to the door of a gas chamber--and in one case, beyond. The technique keeps us permanently off balance; we never know whether we're meeting someone who's about to die immediately, horribly, or someone who might make it through half the book. And yet, somehow the author is getting at the fundamental challenge facing all Holocaust literature. It's the problem of scale: At what point does it all become just a parade of corpses? How does one make the suffering particular without having the reader go numb? Yanking gold teeth from the mouths of gassed Jews, young Janusz keeps himself occupied by imagining their identities. It's the only way he can bring himself to face the abstraction of death on this scale: "Each one is a person. Each has a past that is at least as complicated and abundant with memory as his own." Every 20th or 30th tooth, he pops one into his mouth, holding it there while he works and later bartering the gold for weapons.

The uprising is doomed from the start, of course, but in a way, that's not the point. Just because it will fail doesn't mean it's not necessary. At one point, Janusz watches his friend dragged off to certain death. As he goes, Adam points steadily to his temple and then his eye, and Janusz realizes that his friend is giving him an order: "that he, Janusz Siedlecki, should carry on, see, and remember, see and remember, see and remember.... All these people have been made to vanish from the earth, the reality of their existence wiped away, but for one thing: the presence of one person to see and remember." The remarkable thing is, of course, that MacMillan was not there to see or remember--and nonetheless he makes us do both. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

It stands to reason that accounts of the Holocaust?whether fiction or nonfiction?will be wrenching evocations of brutality and unspeakable suffering. Nearly every book on the subject, no matter its literary merit, possesses a certain dignity and power. When a book like this one appears, however?it's the third volume of a trilogy MacMillan began in Proud Monster and Orbit of Darkness?it must be acknowledged as a new benchmark in Holocaust literature, distinguished by unflinching fidelity to truth, unsparing immediacy and literary resonance. MacMillan's achievement, in this account of the events that led to the (ultimately tragic) revolt of inmates at the Treblinka concentration camp in August 1943, is to convey the particularity of the near-unimaginable horrors through several leading characters, as well as the universality of such struggle through the documentation of the torture and death of at least one million souls. Reading it, one is enveloped in dread, horrified by details of slaughter, immersed in the emotions of its characters and compelled by the tension of observing captors and victims in a horrifying world. A series of highly charged, kaleidoscopic vignettes?of bewildered Jewish arrivals herded directly into the gas chambers, of Jewish workers forced to categorize, transport and search through bodies, of Nazi and Ukrainian guards and residents of the nearby Polish village?links the several main characters. The intensity of MacMillan's compressed prose humanizes the desperate lives he holds up to our gaze. This book's graphic descriptions?the odor of putrifying bodies when boxcars are finally opened, "the subtle, glistening movement of worms" in folds of skin, the stench of the roasting pits where corpses are burned, the depravity of Nazis who smile as they execute?is sometimes nearly unbearable. And yet not to read about it seems almost a crime.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
To pick up this book, you must have a strong will. This is tough to take. But if you can get past the gore, it is amazing. I could not stop turning the pages.
The fear, horror and brutality are so well written that the words allow you to continue reading. It is not only the poor Jewish prisoners that you become absorbed with, its the guards and the townspeople. Their inhumanity and place in this time of human history is shocking. You know the story before you begin. But it becomes alive in your mind. To me that is the sign of a real book. I think what this book does is to further enhance the reasoning that for the Nazi's and their allies and enemies to do what they did was a result of long engrained anti-semistim in European society. But more than that, it is man's inhumanity to man, and once it starts rolling its hard to stop and so many will hop on for the ride.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a courageously honest look at the Treblinka concentration camp in World War II, as seen through the eyes of prisoners, guards, and others connected to the camp. The point of view switches effectively, giving the sense of a range of people's experiences of this nightmarish part of our human history. MacMillan's skill at description, character development, and plot development brought the concentration experience to reality better for me than any other accounting of life in a concentration camp that I have read, either fictional or autobiographical. The flavor of the book is so genuine, it is hard to believe the author was not a first hand observer of this experience. This book should be read by everybody, so that we all have a deeper understanding of these events from our past.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
Clearly, Stephen G. Esrati (review below) has an obsession with footnotes (a footnote fetish, if you will). Leave it to the "expertise" of a writer for stamp collectors to give such a ridiculously blind review of one of the most amazing books on the Holocaust ever written. Village of a Million Spirits is, quite simply, a mind-blowing account of the Treblinka revolt. Perhaps unlike Mr. Esrati, I have studied the Holocaust extensively, and I can confidently state that McMillan's book is based on ample research. VMS is a stirring, horrifying (yes, the Holocast was gruesome, Mr. Esrati - deal with it), and mesmirizing story. I highly recommend it to anyone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Buy it. Read it. Read it again. This is the most important book you'll read this year.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I generally consume books in one or two sittings but the intensity of Macmillain's prose on the Treblinka death camp was such that I could only digest small quanities at one time. His fictionalized account of the madness of such a camp seen through particpants eyes is such that you feel voyeuristic in reading, and feel you shouldn't be reading.....something that shouldn't have happened. Simply a masterful work of incredible understanding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Donna Lise Dambrot on February 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book has forever shaped my imagery of the horrors of the Nazi death camps. Compelling, powerful, horrific beyond measure. An incredible journey into the recesses of hell. I don't know how the author was able to capture with such vivid portraiture the evil described, considering that he is not a survivor. A must-read.
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