Discover more from A Book For Ants: Bite-Sized Reviews of Snack-Sized Books
THE DEVASTATION OF SILENCE by João Reis
Translated by Adrian Minckley
There’s one scene in László Nemes’s extraordinary film, Son of Saul, that changed how I thought about Auschwitz. Away from the relentless brutality and depredation, the prisoners fashion a life within their barracks - we see them as ordinary people attempting to navigate their way through horrific circumstances. It is warm and humanising; a reclamation of sorts.
I had much the same feeling reading The Devastation of Silence. Framed as the oral testimony of a former captain in the Portuguese army, it tells of his time in a German POW camp towards the end of World War I. With no papers to prove his rank, he is thrown into a Kafkaesque dance of friendship, deception and exasperation not only with his captors but also his fellow inmates. He is equal parts Colonel Nicholson, Corporal King and Jakob the Liar.
In much the same way as Nemes, Reis adds depth and shade to the rough mental sketches we have of these houses of horror. Yes, there is hunger and depravity and desperation, but there is also humour, banality and a complex social ecosystem. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
The Devastation of Silence by João Reis (Tr. Adrian Minckley)
Open Letter, 2022