From the author of Life: A User’s Manual (Godine, 1987) comes an equally astonishing novel: W or The Memory of Childhood, a narrative that reflects a great writer’s effort to come to terms with his childhood and his part in the Nazi occupation of France.
Guaranteed to send shock waves through the literary community, Perec’s W tells two parallel stories. The first is autobiographical, describing the author’s wartime boyhood. The second tale, denser, more disturbing, more horrifying, is the allegorical story of W, a mythical island off Tierra del Fuego governed by the thrall of the Olympic “ideal,” where losers are tortured and winners held in temporary idolatry.
As the reader soon discovers, W is a place where “it is more important to be lucky than to be deserving,” and “you have to fight to live. . .[with] no recourse, no mercy, no salvation, not even any hope that time will sort things out.” Here, sport is glorified and victors honored, but athletes are vilified, losers executed, rape common, stealing encouraged and violence a fact of life.
Perec’s interpretive vision of the Holocaust forces us to ask the question central to our time: How did this happen before our eyes? How did we look at those “shells of skin and bone, ashen faced, with their backs permanently bent, their eyes full of panic and their suppurating sores?”?How did this happen, not on W, but before millions of spectators, some horrified, some cheering, some indifferent, but all present at the games watching the events of that grisly arena?
This book, a devastating indictment of passivity and the psychology of crowds, will find its place beside such great works as Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table and If Not Now, When?
Praise for W, or the Memory of Childhood
I once had the occasion to write to the translator of these books, David Bellos, and I took the opportunity to let him know that Perec is my favorite writer, and that, since a translator is to a large extent the creative force behind a translated work, he, David Bellos, is also, in a palpable way, my favorite writer. Few writers have opened up the possibilities of literary art with as much enthusiasm, mastery, and pleasure as Perec.
—Martin Riker, Associate Director of the Dalkey Archive Press