The Nature of Blood by Caryl Phillips - review by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

Black is not Jewish

The Nature of Blood

By

(Faber & Faber 213pp £15.99) order from our bookshop
 

There is only one rule in postwar fiction: don't write about the Holocaust unless you are sure you can do it well. You must do it so well that it lights up the darkest days of Europe's history, so well that you are a spark of light in that dark. Measure your work, let's say, against the brilliant desolation of Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl. If you can't match it, look elsewhere for a story. You may think you can hitch a free ride on the power of brute reality, but in fact there is no theme more calculated to expose a writer's limitations – both his literary and his psychological ones.

Caryl Phillips has clearly worked through his reading list. His central character is Eva Stern, twenty-one when she is liberated from a camp in which her parents have died. Her family background is filled in with synoptic efficiency:

Papa's was first generation wealth. His family were merely shopkeepers ... Mama's family

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