Book Review: Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally

I usually order the books I read by alternating between fiction and non-fiction, so after some Sherlock Holmes I decided to read this book, only to discover that this is actually a novel. It’s a historical novel, so it’s based on true events and so the book it reminded me of most was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood which similarly tells a true story but with the style and verve of a novel’s prose.

Keneally embarked on the project after meeting one of the Jews saved by the efforts of industrialist Oskar Schindler, who ran a factory and kept his workers safe from the horrors of the concentration camps. Keneally interviewed various of the people who made up the list Schindler compiled of the “skilled workers” he needed for his factory, and gathered their stories along with historical record before telling the story.

What emerges is a story that shines a light on the horrors of the holocaust, which is at times extremely hard going. I read mainly over breakfast, and this book wasn’t exactly light reading over my Coco Pops. But it’s still well worth reading, being an engaging, captivating read, mainly thanks to the story, the struggle and trials the Jewish workers faced is one that needs to be told, so that the horrors are never forgotten and the obsessive crusade of Schindler is heroism at it’s best.

But Keneally doesn’t gloss over Schindler’s failures, he’s a serial adulterer, drinker and lives large off his factories at the start of the war, but as time goes on he seems to become increasingly obsessed with sparing as many people as possible from the gas chambers.

schindlers ark

It’s this that makes his actions all the more remarkable, it’s commented that before and after the war he was average, but during the war, as others plumbed new depths of depravity he rose in decency. On the surface he played the good party member, hosting Nazi officials and presenting them with gifts, but secretly loathing them and their actions.

Keneally takes time to introduce the major players, recounting their actions and offering reasons and insights into their characters, some of it may be conjecture, but it makes for a compelling read. There’s Schindler himself but we also see various Nazi officers, most notably Amon Goeth, the commandant of the nearby camp, an evil and deluded figure who routinely executed prisoners for minor infractions or seemingly out of boredom. Goeth is a monstrous figure, but remains a human one throughout, never fully realizing how he is viewed or how evil his deeds are.

We also hear stories from within the ghetto of Krakow, as the Jewish population hope they can just live under the latest persecution but quickly come to realize that the Nazis are more determined and vicious than any that had come before. Their attempts to survive and the little quirks of fate that help them make it through.

There’s immense tension in these accounts, and the references to dates only heighten this, as the end of the war nears I found myself willing time to pass faster so that people would make it. Keneally allows us to hear what became of several of the major players,

There were times reading this book when I was reduced to tears, and others where moments of courage and kindness filled me with joy and renewed respect for the strength of the human spirit. You may already know the story, or even seen the movie, but it’s definitely worth reading the book which provides a deeper insight and more background into those involved.

Verdict: A gloriously well written book that tells an emotional and compelling story from the world’s darkest hour and the way that some will rise to protect others and the best of mankind. Keneally may have taken liberties but it’s still a magnificent piece of work and the story deserves to be told. It will hit you hard, though. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO,


One Comment on “Book Review: Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally”

  1. […] book is Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, which while based on real events is written with the style and flair of a novel, to gripping […]

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