archive - issue 14

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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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Monday, 07 May 2012 02:00

The Warsaw Anagrams

By  Karina Magdalena Szczurek
I always find it particularly difficult to pick up a book about war, any war, but especially the Second World War. Yet after having read a few of Richard Zimler's other novels, opening his latest, The Warsaw Anagrams, I was hoping that if I followed him into the hell of the Warsaw Ghetto, I would emerge with a flicker of hope in my heart despite everything I was bound to witness. That was the gift of his other novels about the persecution of Jews around the world and throughout history: that not all is lost when people are prepared to hold on to the core of their humanity, even when fighting against all odds.

I was not disappointed.

The Warsaw Anagrams opens with Erik Cohen's return to the ghetto as an ibbur (Hebrew for ghost) and his encounter with Heniek Corben, a man who unlike all others can see and hear Erik, and most importantly, is eager to assist him in his most important task: remembering. It is to Heniek that Erik, haunted by his memories, entrust the story which forms the centre of the novel. Their connection is unique and can only be understood in the light of the survival strategies many people developed not only during, but also after the war, when to be alive meant having to deal with the crushing weight of guilt, which so many survivors experienced.

In late 1940 the Nazis created the largest ghetto in their occupied territories enclosing 400 000 Jews into an impossibly small area of the Polish capital. It was only the beginning of one of the most horrific crimes in history. Most of the ghetto inhabitants either starved to death or succumbed to illnesses in the ghetto, or were deported and murdered in the Treblinka extermination camp, or lost their lives during the Uprising of 1943 before the ghetto was finally razed to the ground.

Zimler sets his story before the beginning of the deportations. Erik Benjamin Cohen, an aging psychiatrist, tries to survive with his niece Stefa and her young son Adam in a small flat they share in the ghetto. Each one of them attempts to carve out a tiny existence for themselves and to preserve some sense of dignity in the pitiless conditions around them. To protect the little they have left, as in an anagram, they have to rearrange "things to fit the new world we're living in." A special bond develops between Erik and his talented, beautiful great-nephew. When the boy disappears and is found murdered and mutilated one day, the remains of the little family are irrevocably shattered to pieces.

"Do you know what it's like to see a mutilated nine-year-old?" Erik records. "You realize that anything can happen: the sun may blacken and die before your eyes; a crack may open in the earth and swallow the street... Each heartbeat seems proof that all you see and feel is improbable to be anything but a dream."

Erik believes that Adam's death is linked to the fate of all Jews. Another child's mutilated body is found in the days following the murder. With the help of his friends inside and outside the ghetto Erik decides that he will risk everything and won't rest until he finds the people responsible for the children's gruesome deaths.

The Warsaw Anagrams is an unusual book. It is not only a very vividly recreated record of the German occupation and one of its most evil manifestations, but it is also a murder mystery which focuses all the horrors of war on the death of one little boy without diminishing the suffering of millions.

As always, Zimler captures human psychology and emotions with an honesty which is striking and highly revealing. He portrays his characters with their multifaceted and conflicted natures which allows his readers to feel their pain and sorrow, but also to keep up hope against all hope that there is a reason to continue - even if it is only to bear witness as an ibbur. Often, there is little more a writer can do. And Zimler does it with a compassion and understanding which pays worthy tribute to our dead.

The Warsaw Anagrams

by Richard Zimler
London: Corsair, 2011
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