The narrator of Yishai Sarid’s powerful novella is a young Israeli Holocaust scholar who never intended to become one. Or to guide Israeli high school students to the Nazi death camps in Poland. He did love history, but just wanted to live a quiet life of a historian, avoiding research into his own people’s suffering. However, practical considerations and the need to make a living – he had in the meantime married and fathered a son – led him to write his doctoral thesis on the death camps and to start working as a guide, first at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem and then at the camps themselves. He came to see his job as a way to pass on the memory of the Holocaust, and thought he was immune to the stress involved. But memory became a monster – he slowly became addicted to his occupation, renting an apartment in Warsaw and staying away from home for long periods of time. His son, his wife told him, is being bullied by his preschool peers. He is a gentle child, one who does not know how to hit back and defend himself.
Sarid’s novella is written as a report by the narrator to his superior in Jerusalem, in which he tries to explain a violent and embarrassing incident at a death camp. In this incident, he lost his temper and hit a German movie director who was also trying to address the memory that Germans and Jews have in common, and was making a film on the extermination of the Jews. Ranging beyond pure report, the narrator describes himself, his life story and his mental deterioration. He raises ethical questions about the struggle to cope with the memory of the Holocaust; the lessons to be drawn; the connection between the Jews of then and the Israelis of today; the adulation of power, and what turns human beings into killers. He also claims that in the camps the illusion of humanity was wiped out, and that anyone could become a murderer. High culture, refined art, scientific progress – all these are simply a thin veil that cannot protect us.
Named one of 100 Notable Books of 2020 by the New York Times
Featured in Kirkus’s “6 Novels in Translation to Read Now”
“A brilliant short novel that serves as a brave, sharp-toothed brief against letting the past devour the present…. Other writers have described well the reverberations of trauma (like David Grossman in See Under: Love) but few have taken this further step, to wonder out loud about the ways the Holocaust may have warped the collective conscience of a nation, making every moment existential, a constant panic not to become victims again.”
Gal Beckerman, The New York Times Book Review
"Contemporary fiction about the Holocaust that engages with it in a meaningful, original way.. Sarid’s incisive critique of Holocaust memorialization is courageous."
Miranda Cooper, LA Review of Books
A bold, masterful exploration of the banality of evil and the nature of revenge.
Kirkus (starred review)
“[A] record of a breakdown, an impassioned consideration of memory and its risks, and a critique of Israel’s use of the Holocaust to shape national identity…. Sarid’s unrelenting examination of how narratives of the Holocaust are shaped makes for much more than the average confessional tale.”
“In Yishai Sarid’s dark, thoughtful novel The Memory Monster, a Holocaust historian struggles with the weight of his profession…. The Memory Monster is a novel that pulls no punches in its exploration of the responsibility—and the cost—of holding vigil over the past.”
Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews
"The book develops a strong draw that remindes you that Yishai Sarid is a good thriller author who published the exiting agent story Limassol several years ago. Finally, when [the narrator] hits a German documentary filmmaker in his face who taunts and uses him you as a reader get caught up in the thought that it affects just the right person (namely the German) and that the narrator finally does the right thing (he defends himself) - until one realizes that with these thoughts are exactly where Yishai Sarid wants the reader: he turns them into monsters. He lets them experience first-hand in a virtuoso and fearsome way that the memory of the Holocaust stops at nothing and nobody."
"An incredibly haunting novel.. Where does the line run between memorial culture and confiscation of memory? In his new novel the Israeli author Yishai Sarid deals with supposedly taboo questions of Holocaust remembrance. The book touches a lot of taboos."
Mia Eidlhuber and Karin Pollack, Der Standard, 25.1.20
"Sarid unlocks the barriers and boundaries in his novel that we usually use to keep the Holocaust at bay. In the presence of the monster remembrance there is no protection. This is the principle of the book."
"Monster fights cleverly the ‚feel-good‘ remembrance culture."