Book Review: ‘Diary of the Fall’, by Michel Laub

Translated from it’s original Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, Michel Laub’s Diary of the Fall follows an unnamed narrator as he recalls the events of his young life.

He reminisces about his grandfather and father, who both kept diaries in later years of their lives. The former, a Holocaust survivor, writes about his false and idealistic way of seeing the world, while the latter, after finding out that he has Alzheimer’s, writes so as not to forget.

The narrator tries to come to terms with his own memories, including a prank that he and his friends played at a schoolboy’s birthday party that left the boy terribly injured. He looks for forgiveness from the guilt that followed him through to his adult life as he struggles with alcoholism and a string of failed marriages.

Diary of the Fall raises questions about the power of memory. Each generation keeps a diary to try to make sense of their own pasts. The book is the narrator’s diary and is written as numbered entries. I didn’t really like the way it was laid out, to be honest. It wasn’t linear, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think it was done well this particular time. I found myself drifting away from the story quite a lot, and unable to focus as the story jumped from piece to piece without much of a connection. This meant that I had to re-read the bits that I drifted away from which got tedious after a while.

It was difficult to connect with any of the characters, which didn’t help with my focus either. I couldn’t empathise with the narrator, there was nothing about him that made me care about or root for him.

The grandfather and father weren’t much better. The grandfather’s history in Auschwitz is talked about a lot, but it doesn’t have the impact that other stories on the same topic do. If anything it made me feel indifferent to the grandfather’s story, which I’m sure is not what Laub was going for.

It’s the same with the father and his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. There is nothing to make you feel any sympathy or empathy for him as we haven’t been given any reason to care about him. We’re given a few key moments regarding the narrator and his father, but nothing that makes you identify with either of them, and these events are repeated ad nauseam so you just end up annoyed at hearing about the same thing over and over again. Maybe all of this was done on purpose, but if so, I’m not really sure why.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad book, I think I just didn’t really get it. Maybe something gets lost in the translation, or maybe I just missed what the author was trying to say. But either way, Diary of the Fall isn’t a book that I would go out of my way to read again, or recommend to anyone else.

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