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The Garden That Floated Away

Eva Hoffman talks here to David Lasserson about Ida Fink

David Lasserson  |  Autumn 2007  -  Number 207


The UK JFF links up with Jewish Book Week to show the first in a series of films on Israeli Women Writers. The Garden That Floated Away by Ruth Walk (Israel, 2007) is a film about the Polish-Israeli writer Ida Fink. The film will be introduced by Eva Hoffman, who talks here to David Lasserson about Ida Fink.

I first came across Ida Fink in the 1990s, when I was sent a manuscript of stories. My task was to check the English translation of the original Polish.

I found a style of unusual delicacy, in relation to horrific subject matter. Fink writes from the margins of the main events, which are to be inferred from before and after. She is able to create tension from the

implicit horror to be imagined. The reader has an awareness that something is about to happen, which makes this a sharper experience than reading about the thing itself. 

When reading Holocaust memoirs, one is aware that ordinary human sensibilities cannot be sustained in these situations. However Ida Fink writes from a perspective of very sensitive perception. 

She has a capacity to catch an emotional moment very intensely, and her stories are often vignettes which carve incisions into moments.

Perhaps this relates to her own sensibility. She wasn’t in a concentration camp. She left for Germany and got herself taken into a labour camp with her sister. The Journey is the book that narrates their experience. Perhaps she simply found her form: small crystalline stories.

The stories take different narrators’ perspectives, often detailing encounters with non-Jewish inhabitants of the Polish village that Fink remembers as being so beautiful.

One possible precursor in Polish writing for this style is a work called Medallions, a collection of stories written by Zofia Nałkowska, after her official research for the special committee for investigation of Nazi crimes in Poland. 

When I met Ida Fink in New York in the 1990s, I found someone very recognizable. Polish and Jewish, a writer who had studied music. In fact we were at the same conservatoire! I met her again later in Israel, where most of this film is located. She is a very warm character, a wonderful person. This delicate film shows her in her apartment, at an advanced age. It also contains some imagery of the Poland of her youth.  

Her writing career in Israel was very delayed. She started writing in the 1950s, but was only published in the 1980s. Israel was not so interested in placing the Holocaust centre stage, and even Aharon Appelfeld was ignored early on.

Perhaps Appelfeld is the writer to whom she is closest. Her language is not expository but has grace, wistfulness and musicality. She is writing fiction, giving the human and psychological atmosphere of what went on, at the moment when the horror is not yet explicit.

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