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Benjamin's Crossing: A Novel Paperback – July 15, 1998
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Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was among the most important intellectuals of this century: a seminal critic and philosopher. He has, in the past three decades, acquired almost cult status in the academic world. In Benjamin's Crossing, Jay Parini tracks Benjamin through his last, terrible months. The story opens with his desperate flight from Paris, on the heels of the Nazi invasion in 1940. It depicts his various, often tragicomic, attempts to flee France, culminating in his frantic escape over the Pyrenees into Spain. Benjamin's Crossing is a lyrical novel of ideas. It is also a love story dramatizing one of the most moving peripheral episodes of the Holocaust.
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Parini's imagery here is often stunning, and his prose so smooth it is almost melodic in its flow. Using several points of view, he allows Benjamin's friends and acquaintances to recall episodes in Benjamin life, creating emotional power from their reminiscences after Benjamin's death in Spain. First-person accounts by Lisa Fittko, a real person who helped Benjamin and others escape through the Pyrenees into Spain, are particularly powerful, giving immediacy and drama to Benjamin's attempted escape on foot. Quotations from Benjamin's own philosophical writing give a sense of reality to a man who otherwise refused to become engaged in the realities of his time.
Unfortunately, Benjamin himself is phlegmatic, and Parini is often forced to "tell about" his life, rather than recreating it for the reader. Because he is distanced, both by his own personality and Parini's narrative style, Benjamin never really comes to life as do his friends, such as Fittko, Jewish mystic Gershom Scholem, and Russian Marxist Asja Lacis, who, in addressing us directly, create scenes which are full of vitality. Still, this novel about Benjamin as "the European Mind writ large" is endlessly fascinating, a thoughtful eulogy for all that has been lost to posterity. Mary Whipple
The author, Mr. Parini, has a very pleasant style, constantly changing the point-of-view in the narrative, in a way that we can understand every character in a much more deep sense.
Walter Benjamin was nobody to me before I had read this book, and I must say I have bought two books with his writings since then. The same goes to Mr. Parini, since I bought his other book "The Last Station", which deals with the last days of Russian writer Leo Tolstoi.
This book is definitely worth reading. It is very touching since and it is hard not to feel any simpathy for a character with such a complicated personality. Also, it is based in true facts, this people really existed and the book is very well written.
The most exciting parts of his escape read like a thriller. By the time you end this book, I doubt if you won't feel any shame for a regime that sacrificed so many bright minds for nothing. I sure did.