This early emigration positioned Malcolm in a weird situation. She mored than happy as a kid; most of this narrative consists of appreciative and often very dryly funny memories of her dedicated, literate household, in addition to of the bigger Czech community in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. While her writing in these passages remains restrained, as it constantly was, they bear an unwonted strength of sensation, seemingly held just barely at bay. “He liked opera, birds, mushrooms, wildflowers, poetry, baseball,” she writes of her daddy, a baldness physician imagined with a peaceful smile. “I am flooded with things I want to say about him.”
In the middle of this caring and fairly normal childhood, however, was the awful, leaden, ambient fact of the Holocaust, especially conscious her because of her Czech and Jewish identities. Possibly this doubleness accounts for her cerebral, penetrating style, an Americanized iteration of the excellent laconic Eastern European chroniclers, Chekhov, Shalamov, Szabo. An example of among her dozens of swift profiles in this book deserves estimating completely:
Malva always wore black, and it was not required to ask her why. She remained in grieving for her hubby, her 2 children, their partners and her granddaughter, who had been murdered at Auschwitz. She had actually endured. After the war she concerned New york city– I do not know how or why– and survived on the West Side with a relative. My mother was deeply attached to her and would see her frequently; I satisfied her a few times. She never ever smiled. She was gentle and kindly and indifferent. I can not say any more.This sense
of the supreme inviolability of others’ inner lives, the definitive humility because last easy sentence– these were the characteristics that would pertain to exhibit the author’s work, from “The Journalist and the Killer,” with its infamous opening lines, to “Forty-One False Begins,” the finest of her collections. (Every reader seems to have a various favorite amongst her books; my own is “Iphigenia in Forest Hills.”)
The reason for Malcolm’s death was lung cancer, and while she never ever discusses this, “Still Pictures” has the clarity and brevity of a book by a writer who understands that time is brief, which there’s much to say, much to convey, which will otherwise be lost forever. The simple preservation of the remote photos of long-forgotten Czech immigrants is plainly of important value to her. “The past is a country that provides no visas,” she composes early on, however as the enigmatic images motivate increasingly more of Malcolm’s reflections, they appear to contest that claim, leaving us balanced in the familiar pivot between loss and memory.It unavoidably
calls to mind the enduring power of another émigré, the novelist W.G. Sebald, who made comparable use of photos. Malcolm is very much an American author– among those artists who seem not just from however of New york city, her prose echoing with the sounds of Bill Evans and J.D. Salinger, to my ear– but like Sebald, therefore many other immigrants’ kids, she carried with her the sorrowful echoes of another continent. A lot gets lost because shift, Malcolm argues in this final, splendid, a lot of individual work of her long profession. A lot– however not whatever.