Wednesday 28 July 2010

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Guest Review: Sobibor by Jean Molla

Today we have a guest review of Sobibor by Jean Molla from Caroline of Portrait of a Woman. Thank you, Caroline!

sobibor by jean mollaSobibor by Jean Molla

Summary from Amazon:

'I did it, so they'd stop me,' Emma said, when she was caught stealing biscuits from a supermarket. But, Emma is hiding behind her tough words and her waif-like body... Emma is sixteen and anorexic. Why does she do it? Is it her parents' in difference, the long family silences, the lies they tell each other? Emma wants to know. She wants to understand. Whenshe discovers an old notebook in her grandparents' house, disturbing secrets emerge that demand an answer.


Sobibor is one of those books that grips you from the very first sentence and never lets you go. You feel unable to take your eyes off the pages, nor hide what you are feeling by closing the book. The raw images and situations are laid in front of the reader’s eye for him/her to discover what he/she never dared think about and try to understand.

The book is divided by two plots. The first one sees Emma progressively destroy herself. She has been anorexic since the beginning of puberty where her body started to change into one of a woman. She is deeply disturbed and prefers isolating herself from all the others rather than change herself. The book begins when Emma is caught stealing in a supermarket. The manager of the shop reveals to be a nice man wanting to help rather than an accuser. The second plot is in the form of a journal written by French man Jacques Desroches during the Second World War where he joins the German forces in an extermination camp in Poland called Sobibor. The diary was found by Emma in her grandmother home after her death. Emma is haunted by that journal and the acts of cruelty described in it.

The description Emma makes of herself and of her body are incredibly powerful. I was deeply shocked and disturbed by how she perceived the changes in her body. She says that she is not the same person anymore, that she can’t bear to have curves. She says “to be in control”. She refuses to eat or stuffs herself and vomits. She is afraid to grow up and become a woman. Her story is heart-breaking and acts as a complete electroshock.

One of the strongest points of Sobibor is the intensity of the writing. May it be in the cold descriptions of the extermination of the Jewish people or in Emma’s description of her body and what she inflicts on herself.

I am disturbed by Emma’s parents who don’t react to their daughter’s illness and behaviour, but I come to realize that, sometimes, the ones closest to you don’t see you. They don’t see you for who you are but for what they think you are, not bothering with the specifics. It is also much easier to choose not to see things. On the contrary, Emma’s boyfriend Julien recognizes the first signs of the disease and tries to help. Emma’s raw emotions are described with such clarity that it is hard not to find it sick at times. But her illness isn’t something you can gloss over with beautiful and poetic descriptions. Jean Molla’s way of describing Emma’s state of mind are truly amazing.

I was very interested and touched by the character of the supermarket manager. His take on life, his job and all the people coming in his shop with their histories, their miseries and needs is fascinating.

The whole part of the journal is also fascinating. Collaboration is a taboo subject in France. Kids learn at school the importance of Resistance and that the French, under Charles de Gaulle, were among the winners of the war. Unfortunately, anti-semitic and superior race ideas did exist in France as well, and many actors in the French political scene weren’t against German ideas (though I am not saying they were for extermination camps either). This book shows how a despicable (there is no other word) human being justified his actions. The book is studied in schools and has indeed received many children/student awards in France.

The book is as much about anorexia and body image as the sense of history and transmitting one’s ideas. It is also about secrecy and choosing to see things and ignore others. In his postscript, Jean Molla says that there is no evident link between anorexia and the extermination camps except that sometimes, big stories intertwine with smaller ones to create another Story. He explains that “this book is an attempt to dispel those secrets” that keep building up in people’s lives, and the need to talk about them.

Published: 24th October 2005
Publisher: Aurora Metro Publications
Buy from Amazon UK
Buy from Amazon US

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting combination of plots! The book Escape From Sobibor is good (also a TV movie) about the real life escape from the concentration camp by Russian POWs and Jewish prisoners