This Harrowing Holocaust Novel Perfectly Prepared Me for Good Friday

The 6th Lamentation, by William Brodrick, Viking, 2003

Agnes is a bad mother. She seems emotionally distant. She often goes into fugue states where she will stand, staring at nothing. It is hard for her to be fully present with her two children.

What they don’t know is that they aren’t actually her children. They were entrusted to her by their dying mother in a concentration camp.

They also don’t know that Agnes had a child of her own, a baby boy, who was lost in the Holocaust.

Freddie, Agnes’ son, has given up on his mother, her issues and her drama, her apparent inability to be there for him emotionally. It’s not until his own daughter, Lucy, is grown, and Agnes develops a degenerative disease that Freddie will belatedly get to know the history of a warm-hearted woman who was permanently broken by the Nazi occupation of France.

Meanwhile, as Agnes loses her ability to walk, and then to speak, a recently outed Nazi war criminal takes refuge in an English monastary. He is the man who sent Agnes and her baby to the camps.

This beautifully written book was really traumatic to read, and not because there is any graphic violence.  

Brodrick does an amazing job of showing how the Nazi occupation of France put everyone in a position where, almost no matter what they did, they ended up failing or betraying someone. He shows how even a moment of weakness or cowardice could have fatal consequences for a person’s friends. That was the thing that really got me. Reading this, you can’t help asking yourself how you would do in the same situation, and coming up with an unsatisfactory answer. I say it prepared me well for Good Friday because it made me feel guilty as hell.

And these little failures of character, which might not have a huge impact in ordinary times, during the Holocaust would change and cripple people forever. Brodrick shows how a mythology grew up around the young people in the French resistance, such that three generations later, having had a hero in your family could bestow benefits, and being associated with a Nazi or a collaborator became a deep dark family secret.  He shows how even the children who were smuggled out of France grew up with “shame,” because, as avenging angel Salomon Lachaise puts it, “you cannot escape the sensation that you have taken someone else’s place.”

One of the most affecting lines in the book, for me, was after the Frenchman has just been blackmailed by the Nazi guard. He hears the guard throwing up in the adjacent room.

Nevertheless, there is a redemptive thread to this book. It really makes you feel genuinely sorry for every single character (both the war generation and the later generations), and makes you realize how badly these poor people, in the midst of this great evil, needed a supernatural savior.

As do we all.

11 thoughts on “This Harrowing Holocaust Novel Perfectly Prepared Me for Good Friday

  1. This sounds powerful. I will have to check it out, thank you! Have you read Silence by Shusaku Endo? It’s about the hidden Christians in Japan and also deals with the issue of human frailty through one of the main characters, Kichijiro

    Speaking of Good Friday, we had online Good Friday services earlier this day – I think this is really one of the most powerful events in the Christian calendar (after Easter) because it’s so easy to forget about the depth of the sacrifice made in the humdrum of everyday life. Going online this year didn’t detract from the power of the message.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read a review of Silence and I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be able to handle reading it, because of these very same issues. Even reading the review disturbed me. (I can’t now remember whether the review was of the book or of a film based on it.) I will have to go and face it some time. It’s good to mentally put ourselves in these positions so as to realize that the choice is not whether or not to suffer, but between different types of suffering.

      Yes indeed, Good Friday is very important. For Christians, Easter makes no sense without it. I am glad you had your worship time and that it was not diminished by being online. That’s one of the benefits of God being everywhere. 🙂 It’s neat to think of Christians waking up on Good Friday as the sun moves across the globe, and this wave of worship moving across the world. You are at the early edge of the day, and I am at the later edge.

      Best to you.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The closest thing I ever came to a Holocaust novel was Corrie Ten boom’s autobiography. I don’t think I could even read that nowadays. So great job on powering through this.

    We’re having a communion service this evening for Good Friday. Doing church online is better than nothing, but man, even anti-social me is missing gathering together!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have read/watched lots and lots of Holocaust materials. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom’s book, is actually easier than some to read, because the MCs don’t cave and don’t betray, which was definitely the exception rather than the rule. For me it’s harder to watch Holocaust movies that show the shattered friendships and the moral confusion, like Swing Kids. And of course that goes for books too.

      “Happy” Good Friday my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like an amazing read, but I’m a little scared to check it out lol. This seems like one of those books that can be quite haunting and dampen your mood for days after finishing it, even if it’s a good story. I’ll have to add it to my TBR list!

    Liked by 1 person

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