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Lost & Found: Helen Schulman on Jerome Badanes
Helen Schulman introduces Jerome Badanes’s masterpiece of Holocaust literature, The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, in this L&F from our premiere issue.
If being out of print is a little like death for a writer—or at least for the text, which is unable to make new attachments and fades slowly from the memory of those who adored it—is the desire to get a book back into print akin to the desire to bring a friend back to life? I think this as I pore over The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, a novel by the late Jerome Badanes, published by Knopf in 1989 and now unavailable. Do I want this book sent back to press simply because I long to see the bearded, wise-eyed Badanes lumbering down Broadway? Sure, and no. It is one of the best Holocaust novels I have read. Badanes’s strength lies not only in his perfect prose, but in his boldness in describing a troubled life, Leon Solomon’s, interrupted by historical atrocities so brutal they are still, at this late date, hard for the mind to accept. Instead of the cliché of a picture-perfect Sabbath dinner disrupted by storm troopers, Badanes paints a rich and disturbing portrait of an already tattered family further unraveling as it faces annihilation. The scene in which the love of Leon Solomon’s life—his sister—is beaten to death is one of the most harrowing paragraphs in literature. For readers, the dreadful toll of living alongside Leon Solomon is balanced by the deeper understanding we gain of what it means to survive after everything is lost. To survive half dead. And thus we find ourselves changed, as people, in ways both tangible and mysterious, after turning the final pages. Isn’t that why we read? How I wish more of us could get our hands on this one.
Helen Schulman is the author of the novels This Beautiful Life. Helen Schulman, A Day at the Beach, P.S., The Revisionist, and Out Of Time, and the short story collection Not A Free Show. She co-edited, along with Jill Bialosky, the anthology Wanting A Child. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in such places as Vanity Fair, Time, Vogue, GQ, The New York Times Book Review and The Paris Review.