The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally complacent about events of the last century, Jack is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where, as a little boy, he had to fend for himself to survive after losing his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.
The Power of Historical Fiction against oblivion
On July 10th I’ll be attending the Thrillerfest writers’ conference in New York, and appearing on a panel called Does History Really Matter? The panel will be chaired by bestselling author Steve Berry and include such people as David Morrell, who started his career with First Blood which introduced us all to Rambo.
On his website David Morrell says:
Before beginning each project, I write a letter to myself that asks the question: “Why is this book worth a year of my life?”
Exactly! It’s all about passion. Why else do we write?
My novel The Last Witness is about the last living survivor of the Holocaust and it takes place in the near future. One day, not far off from now, there will be one last survivor, one last witness to the most horrible genocide the world has ever seen. And this is precisely where historical fiction can play a powerful role.
Like all genres in fiction, historical fiction is meant to encapsulate or inspire the reader, but there is also an element of informing the reader. This will vary to different degrees with the writer.
Stephen Spielberg’s powerful film Schindler’s List brought the horror of the Holocaust to an entire generation of young people who were not familiar with it. It’s a sad fact today that the public school system no longer places a priority on teaching history, so where will people learn about the past?
Novels of historical fiction can play a part. I cut my eye-teeth on historical sagas by writers like James A. Michener who wrote sweeping epics about certain places in the world at certain times. Ken Follett can introduce you to the Middle Ages with masterpieces like Pillars of the Earth while Colleen McCullough can tell you much about life in Australia during the Depression with The Thornbirds.
You read. You learn. You become more informed.
That is what The Last Witness is meant to do. Through historical flashbacks the reader sees a little boy living as a hidden child in a Jewish ghetto after the Nazis occupy his country, and later learns how he manages to survive the death camp of Auschwitz despite losing his family. All that serves as the backdrop to the near-future story taking place in 2039 when a 100-year-old man – the last living survivor of the Holocaust – wrestles with a world that is woefully ignorant of the past.
Is there a message here? Absolutely. It was Edmund Burke who said ‘Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.’
Today the government of Turkey denies that the Armenian genocide of 1915 – exactly 100 years ago – ever took place. At the same time there are all kinds of nutcases who say the Holocaust was fiction, or at least, exaggerated. But what is there to exaggerate when six million people of a single race are murdered?
I don’t want to leave you with the notion that The Last Witness is a chilling read. But gripping? I certainly hope so. I prefer to think of as an uplifting story about a remarkable little boy who lives through incredible hardships only to meet a new challenge when he is 100 years old.
And that is the power of historical fiction against oblivion.
Jerry Amernic is a Toronto writer who has been a newspaper reporter and correspondent, newspaper columnist, feature writer for magazines, teacher of journalism, and media consultant. His first book 'Victims: The Orphans of Justice' was a true story about a former police officer whose eldest daughter was murdered and who became a leading advocate for crime victims. This resulted in Jerry’s column about the justice system for The Toronto Sun. More recently Jerry co-authored 'Duty - The Life of a Cop' with Julian Fantino, the highest-profile police officer Canada has ever produced and now a member of the Canadian Cabinet. In fiction, Jerry’s first novel 'Gift of the Bambino' was praised by The Wall Street Journal in the U.S., The Globe and Mail in Canada, and others. His latest novel is the historical thriller 'The Last Witness'. Just released is the biblical-historical thriller 'Qumran'.
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Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on historical fiction with us. For mystery/thriller readers, it definitely makes for an intriguing subcategory of the genre.
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