The hardest of times
‘Fires in the Dark’ offers honest look at the Final Solution

by Joe Foster

Fires in the Dark by Louise Doughty. Harper Perrenial 2005, 496 pages.

I had a philosophy professor in college who began a comprehensive study of the Holocaust. It became an obsession for him, this study of atrocity, and it eventually almost cost him his life. I suppose one can only delve so far into the abyss of depravity and the unfathomable morass of murderous ideology before it consumes the soul. He interviewed hundred of survivors, or the kin of those who did not survive, and began a lecture series on campus in which these people would tell their stories. I attended a few, but honestly couldn’t handle it. As it turned out, this professor was unable to handle it himself and attempted suicide. He thankfully failed and took a long-deserved sabbatical, and I never saw him again. Since then, I’ve always had a horrid fascination for this most ultimate of evils, the idea of ethnic cleansing. Perhaps the most depressing thing about it

is that these atrocities continue unabated. Darfur, Sadaam’s reign of terror, Bosnia, Columbus, Andrew Jackson, the Circassian Genocide in Russia, the Armenian Genocide (watch the film “Ararat” for a brilliant depiction of this one) the mass murders of almost every native population in the world. These events are inspired by a self-righteous prejudice so fundamentally evil as to make them incomprehensible to a sane mind.


The most well known is, of course, the Nazi’s “Final Solution.” Millions upon millions were massacred in possibly the most systematic and industrialized murders in history. Jews were the primary targets, but the Nazis branched out to other classes that, I guess, offended them: homosexuals, Poles, the mentally ill or challenged, and the Roma, more commonly known as Gypsies. Louise Doughty’s Fires in the Dark is about a family of Coppersmith Gypsies caught up in this most horrifying of times.

Gypsy culture and daily life provide the backdrop for this story, while the Nazis and their tactics begin simply as yet another instance of persecution in the life of a Gypsy. An outstanding cast of characters make you care so much that it eventually hurts. Josef is a man that had never cried in his entire life, even as a child, until his wife was in labor and he couldn’t stand to hear her in pain. Anna is a lovingly tough woman, and Yenko is an unexceptional man forced to see his family through what could only be described as life’s worst-case scenario. Love and hope, fear and death, salvation through murder, and the daunting task of building a life worth living after seeing humanity at its very worst, Fires in the Dark will educate, destroy and eventually comfort you.

From the lives of nomads to the concentration camps, to a slowly rebuilding Eastern Europe and the desperate search for a family that may or may not have survived, Doughty, Roma herself, creates an alternate history of an often-overlooked people. She makes you feel as if you are there laughing or suffering with Yenko and his family. I’ve recommended this book often and have almost as often received a heartfelt thank-you a few weeks later. I’ve often wondered why people pick fluff for their summer reads. I’ve always found summer to be the perfect time to find a great writer that can captivate and transport you, rather than make you groan at their predictability. Do yourself a favor this summer and pick up something really good. •



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