I really waffled on how to rate this book. Can some books just not have to be rated? Can they exist outside some sort of rating spectrum? For here we have the memoirs of an Austrian, Jewish, man forced to flee to France after the Anschluss, then subjected to more persecutions, first the micro-aggression pas d'histories attitude he encounters in many of his interactions in French, and then further macro-aggressive Nazi awfulness once the Nazis invade France. Through a combination of good fortune and hard work by members of the French Resistance, Scheyer, his wife, and his non-Jewish housekeeper (who chooses to throw her lot in with the Scheyer's rather than reap the "benefits" of her Aryaness), survive the Nazi regime in France, but not after some close calls and some internments in French concentration camps.
So that's why I have trouble rating it. I can't say I enjoyed reading about how awful human beings can be to each other (and possibly, since my last netgalley book was about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, I need to pick some lighter ARC reads), and I can't say that, either emotionally or stylistically, the memoir made me feel anything, say in the vein of Suite Française, which details some of the same events, such as the occupation and fleeing of Paris. Of course Asylum obviously isn't a book written with a purpose of giving me the feels or entertaining me or anyone else. It's not even written with the intent of educating anyone. It's testimony, but it's dry and a bit dated, and Scheyer isn't that likeable, which actually may be the book's strongest point. When told that he should be suitably grateful, suitably thankful, suitably happy about his release from concentration camps, you can feel his anger and despair burble up to the surface. Why should he be happy, when it's just a trick of luck and connections that got him free? Why should he be happy most of society did nothing and will likely do nothing again if the Nazis and French sympathizers round him up again? Why should he be happy when the call of the day is it's only the Jews? That, that anger and displeasure, will be what I take away from this memoir, in a time when there are calls for certain groups not to be so angry, not to be so strident, not to be so other, just to be like "us" and wait your turn and smile at all the atrocities, big and small, perpetrated by the strong against the weak. Sit down, shut up, don't complain, always smile. Yeah, that worked out so well in the past.
Anger, when we see injustice, is good. Anger is what we need. Thank you Asylum for reminding me of that.
Asylum by Moriz Scheyer went on sale September 27, 2016.
I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.