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One Book, Two Holocaust Novels

November 5, 2012 | By

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The next great Jewish novel is coming from the heart of Germany.

The Canvas, by Berlin-born Benjamin Stein, is a mystery novel with an innovative form: It’s actually two books in one. Start from one side, read your way through, then flip the book over and find a distinct story that’s connected through some common characters and the same mysterious final event.

Amnon is a young ultra-Orthodox yeshiva student in Israel. One day, he discovers a locked cabinet in his parents’ house containing secular books. Shortly later, when a rabbi at school catches him with an Oscar Wilde novel tucked inside his Talmud, he is sent away to Switzerland, where he meets an elderly man with a riveting Holocaust history. He convinces the man to write a book.

On the novel’s flip-side is Jan Wechsler, father of two. He lives in Munich, where he’s a recently-Orthodox baal teshuva and a member of the city’s small Jewish community. One day, a suitcase arrives at his house bearing his name containing books that he’s apparently written, though he has no recollection of writing them. Through these  books Wechsler discovers that he had once investigated a fake Holocaust memoir by an elderly Swiss man.

The way these two storylines–and three characters–spiral together is perplexing, but seductive. Not just an ingenious riddle, The Canvas is a tantalizing, innovative, and physchologically complex story.

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