Book re­port

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

I have a copy of Stephen King’s It be­side my bed at the mo­ment. I might read it but my usual fear with hor­ror books and films is not that I’ll be freaked out, but that I won’t. Clowns? I don’t share that pho­bia. Can­ni­bal­is­tic se­rial killers? Not my prob­lem. Teens run­ning through the woods with a hand-held cam­era? Yawn.

Small sa­tanic boy dressed in 1970s tweed suit with sui­ci­dal nanny about to ruin his birth­day party? OK, that one got me.

But gen­er­ally, you get the pic­ture. I’m al­most hor­ror im­mune.

The book that I am read­ing right now has me gripped. It’s Driv­ing to Tre­blinka, this year’s much-ac­co­laded mem­oir by New Zealand jour­nal­ist Diana Wich­tel, who strives to un­tan­gle the mys­tery sur­round­ing her late fa­ther.

Ben­jamin Wich­tel was a Pol­ish-Jewish Holo­caust sur­vivor, an in­tel­li­gent, lov­ing and com­pli­cated man, who died alone in Canada, es­tranged from Diana and the rest of her fam­ily who’d moved to New Zealand. She last saw him when she was 13.

Wich­tel is well known as a bril­liant and funny TV re­viewer and she of­ten brings that light touch to this story, which is nev­er­the­less filled with long­ing and pain. And, as she delves into the war years of which her fa­ther sel­dom spoke, it be­comes a story of hor­ror and mon­sters, the very real kind.

Maybe it’s that – the un­easy knowl­edge of what our species is ca­pa­ble of – which ex­plains our en­dur­ing need to cre­ate pre­tend hor­ror that we can pack­age as en­ter­tain­ment and con­trol. Philip Matthews ex­plores the genre on page 10.

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