Before becoming a mother I was, shall we say, interested in death. Someone once – quite accurately – described me as a “morbid little ball of sunshine.” I was (and still am) a very happy person… just one with more than your standard preoccupation with this mortal coil.
At some point in my life, best I can pinpoint is sometime in adolescence, I found that the best way for me to get a handle on the basic fact of life being that it’s going to come to an end was to inform myself about the ending. Death fascinated me because it was so ordinary and yet so unknowable. It happens to everyone, but no one knows what it’s like as you can’t really come back and describe it. Our bodies are amazing vehicles for our souls, and yet are not designed to function for more than a handful of decades. It’s truly incredible.
Anyhow. This is to say that I’ve been known to walk on the dark side. I’ve read more than my fair share on the Holocaust – even taking an intensive course on the same in college (which was the source of such infamous quips as “Hitler could really enunciate.” “Could you guys be quiet, I’m trying to concentrate on genocide.” and “The Holocaust isn’t as funny as it used to be.”). Upon reading a few reviews of HHhH – which centers on Reinhard Heydrich, the author of the “Final Solution” – it seemed right up my proverbial alley.
I’ve been reading it for the past week or so and it’s quite good. The self-awareness of the novel gets a little irritating at times, but at other times it’s really beautifully done. That said… I can’t finish it.
I’m only 39% of the way through (according to the status bar on my Kindle) and I’m loving the story and the writing and while I’m reading it, it’s a fantastic book. It’s not at all centered on the atrocities of the Shoah and there have, thus far, not been any gratuitously horrific scenes. I’m not at all disturbed by the subject matter while I’m reading…
… but when I put the book down and go to sleep, my dreams are filled with children being taken to concentration camps. Babies separated from their parents and shipped away. Parents hiding their babies from “the authorities,” living in attics trying to escape from unspoken danger. And I know that these dreams – plural, as in every sleeping period for days now – are coming from the book. Motherhood has clearly made me more sensitive to the trauma of families, of mothers and babies, during this horrible period and I just can’t process the information with the same detachment that I used to.
(I should note that thankfully, my dreams have centered on fictional children – not Paulo – and I have merely been a bystander.)
I don’t know if/when I’ll ever be able to return to this book or other similar stories. My brain has changed the way I process death and sadness. Now it’s not hypothetical anymore. Now it’s personal. Now it’s not someone’s pain, but a mother’s pain and I just can’t do it. I’ve gone all soft. I doubt I’ll ever stop being fascinated by death, but I also doubt if I’ll ever be able to interact with it casually again either.