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The Hand That Signed The Paper by Helen…
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The Hand That Signed The Paper

by Helen Darville

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I read this before the revelations of her true identity etc. The writing is self-conscious in an irritating way. The story, though repulsive, shows a writer with an independent mind, willing to go places others would not. But unfortunately, her style is so lumpy and awkward that the whole thing becomes a chore to read. There is not enough light and shade, the characters are all so much the same, full of an unending brutality that numbed me. It reads more like a sort of propaganda, showing an undeveloped sense of understanding of humans and society, and how to portray them. ( )
1 vote thewordygecko | Jun 23, 2006 |
Winner of the Franklin Literary Award (leading Australian award), but very controversial when it was discovered that the author was not who she said she was, i.e., the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants and who, it was proven, had committed plagiarism in her past. The personal fabrications of the author were quite fantastic and seem an interesting comment on the gullibility of the media or the lack of critical faculty when dealing with a "popular" phenomenon. Those aside, we can judge the book on its own merits.

It is not up to the standard I would expect for a major literary award, nor to the standard I know from other Australian writers. In fact, it is not a book I would recommend to a friend. One friend noted a gross inconsistency in the considerable unlikelihood of the use of Gaelic in that time and place (as was supposedly done by a couple of characters when they did not wish to be understood by others). There were a couple of other elements that jarred. One was the completely undeveloped and unexplained metamorphosis of Kretschmann, the true believer and devoted Nazi who, post-war, experiences some sort of epiphany and devotes his life to the Peace Corps in a life-long struggle against racism. Not impossible, I suppose, but hard to swallow at face value. The treatment of the "cultured" German officer is superficial. There is a line about him regarding the Ukrainians with anthropological disinterest because he was steeped in the writings of Margaret Mead which struck me as a bit over the edge. I looked up the dates of Mead's publications; it is possible to have been reading some of her earlier work at that time, but I somehow doubt that it was on the interest lists of very many National Socialists. I really laughed at the description of the German officer reprimanding the concentration camp inmate who was loading books in a truck with, "empiricism over here...How dare you put J.S.Mill beside Nietszche?"! Somehow the dialogue does not ring true.

The book has been attacked as an apologia for Ukrainian complicity in the Holocaust. The problem lies in the confusion between understanding and exculpation or, as a friend put it, the a lack of moral stance. The author does a decent job of showing that it would not be much of a stretch for someone who grew up in the benighted, anti-Semitic atmosphere of the Ukraine, to become an active participant in systematic murder of Jews. However, to understand the social or historical milieu is not to excuse or approve and it is here that the author fails.
1 vote John | Nov 29, 2005 |
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A story about colonized Ukraine and its people during World War II showing that sustained contempt, brutality and humiliation against the despised Slavs of Ukraine led to their rising up on behalf of the occupying Nazi forces against those they perceived as their oppressors: Jews and Communists.… (more)

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