After reading Lola Bensky, I was determined to read more of Lily Brett. Like Lola Bensky, Brett's central character in this novel, Ruth Rothwax, bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Brett herself. In Too Many Men, Brett's most acclaimed novel, Ruth Rothwax takes her father back to Poland to revisit his family home, the ghetto in which he and Ruth's mother were forced to live, and finally the concentration camps of Auchwitz. Despite the sombre nature of this journey, Brett infuses her character with great insight and humour, particularly in her mental conversations with a significant player in the Third Reich. Brett's knowledge of this sorry period in Western history is deep and I learned a great deal that I didn't know before. (I'm sorry to say that this is partly because I haven't wanted to 'go there'. One visit to the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne was enough for me to block out the stories of some of the survivors and the images in those photographs). Ruth Rothwax is intent on taking her father back to the scenes of his personal hell and it becomes clear that the journey is more about her need to come to terms with what happened to her parents, and to make some connection to a family history she has had little knowledge about. There were times. in this novel, when her intensity and prejudices against the Polish people were irritating, as was her seemingly selfish need to drag her eighty-one year old father from one bad memory to another. At times, I had to pull myself from becoming irritated with Brett herself. Of course, she is a consummate craftswoman and led me to understand that the children of Holocaust survivors are burdened with their parents' histories. Rothwax's father, based, I believe on Brett's own father is a wonderful character. Despite the severe hardship and trauma experienced at the hands of the Nazis, his simplistic sense of good will, his love of his daughter, and even his immense appetite are endearing. That he could 'move on' in his life while his daughter could not was food for thought. 

Other than being raised in the same city as Brett, I have nothing in common with her, but her style of writing, her humour and candour evident in both of these books (and I'm sure, her others) make me feel as if I know her well. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Posted
AuthorAmanda Apthorpe