Book Review: Filkins shows deep understanding of Adler's life

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"H. G. Adler: A Life in Many Worlds," by Peter Filkins, is a biography that remembers the life and writing of a man whose work and personal history are profound. Through a detailed, closely documented narrative, readers are drawn into a life that defines dedicated philosophical thought and creativity. This is more richly done through Peter Filkins' deep knowledge of H. G. Adler, having translated three novels by him: "Panorama," "The Journey" and "The Wall."

Filkins is one of the first to write about Adler with such breadth of understanding. Hans Gunther (H. G.) Adler (Born in Prague 1910, died in London 1988) published more than two dozen works of fiction, poetry, history, sociology and religion, "yet for much of his life, he remained almost entirely unknown." A survivor of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and two other concentration camps, Adler published "Theresienstadt 1941-1945" in 1955 to international acclaim and is a central contribution to Holocaust Studies.

Adler's objectivity in scholarship, writing and the arts embodies his determination to live with dignity and meaning. This is in itself as much of a miracle as was his actual survival. Filkins presents statistics of deportations, internments and documented deaths at several Holocaust sites in Europe where Adler was sent, and it is astonishing to grasp his numbering in the very low percentage of those who survived. The biography celebrates the complexity, depth and importance of Adler's works, created in the midst of unimaginably horrific conditions. According to Filkins, Adler's life can be seen as a "series of intersecting circles, a journey steered by circumstances and eclectic interests coursing in several directions at once."

The importance of Adler's personal experiences and writing, and later, his research into the Holocaust, was never more important than when, on May 24, 1960, he learned of the capture of the notorious high ranking Nazi, Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Buenos Aires. Adler's quick action led to the arrest of Hermann Krumey, "one of Eichmann's henchmen" who Adler knew would be a key witness and now flight risk. Adler's first-person testimony and his detailed paper trail research was instrumental in proving that Eichmann "was the mastermind behind the Holocaust."

Interestingly, Adler, as a truly multi-gifted individual, was also an avid outdoors adventurer and naturalist. "The artist in Adler" took up the art of photography in 1960 and distinguished himself through 8,000 photographs that "present images that are witnesses to ourselves, products of our continual engagement with the world" (H. G. Adler). Filkins characterizes Adler's photography "as much a philosophical pursuit as an outlet for artistic expression." The book reproduces a few of Adler's stunningly beautiful photographic images.

Adler's life, and the horrific events he was witness to, generated serious philosophical realizations that shaped his understanding of humanity, not for just speculative and intellectual interests, but for his own survival at all levels. These ways of understanding and knowing informed his entire work. Filkins' biography uniquely illustrates in exceptional depth just how much Adler's work in the arts, intellectual discourse, and scholarly writing has heroically upheld the importance of truth and human dignity.

Peter Filkins is an award-winning translator and poet. He has translated three novels by H. G. Adler, as well as the collected poems of Ingeborg Bachmann, "Darkness Spoken." The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Leon Levy Center for Biography, the DAAD, and the American Academy in Berlin, he is the Richard B. Fisher Professor of Literature at Bard College at Simon's Rock.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. Colin welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com

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