And the Rat Laughed
By Nava Semel
Translated from Hebrew by Miriam Schlesinger
Hybrid Publishers, Australia
Nava Semel's creative work is famous in Israel, and now her important Holocaust-related novel, And the Rat Laughed, is available to English-language readers. Background about Semel's novel and her short story dealing with sexual abuse during the Holocaust will be included in a forthcoming anthology on that subject, co-edited by Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, to be published by Brandeis University Press. Nava Semel is a member of the Advisory Board of Remember the Women Institute.
And the Rat Laughed is unique in both subject matter and format. Unlike other Holocaust-related books this novel deals with the act of remembering, including sexual abuse. It resembles a relay race in which the characters transfer memory from one to the other, while traveling on the axis of time.
The book begins at the end of 1999, when a survivor grandmother in Tel Aviv shares with her granddaughter her tragic life story as a child hidden in a pit during the Holocaust, with only a rat for company. The next day the granddaughter tells the legend of “Girl and Rat” to her teacher, and in 2009 those who heard it through her classmates establish an internet site with related poems. From then on this memory spreads out throughout the world and becomes a myth. By 2099 anthropologist Lima Energelly discovers it and tries to uncover its mysterious roots. In her research Lima reveals the first man who created this myth, Father Stanislaw, a Catholic priest who saved the little girl and returned her to the Jewish people after the war. This little Jewish girl is the Tel Aviv grandmother, and the story moves from present to future to past.
The novel is written in five genres: story, legend, poems, science fiction, and diary, creating a time-frame of 150 years. And the Rat Laughed received acclaim in Israel for its use of unconventional and original literary devices and became a ground breaker for exploring the act of memory. How do we tell a painful story? Does it change the way we recall it? How will our next recipient recall it in their own individual way? Is art the only way to transfer emotional memory?
The novel was enthusiastically received in Israel and adapted to the stage as a successful opera, composed by Ella Milch-Sheriff and performed by the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv and the Israel Chamber Orchestra. And the Rat Laughed deals with the influence of this harrowing chapter of history on people's relationship with God, on understanding human nature, on the need to forget in order to survive, and on the need to remember nonetheless. At its heart, it deals with sexual abuse during the Holocaust and the silence that has surrounded this subject.
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