As I was attending the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day service in Stamford last month, it became clear to me that there’s very little being taught to kids today about the Holocaust. Is the subject going to inevitably be a footnote in their world history courses? It’s remote and almost impossible to grasp in gravity and concept by today’s teenagers. I have yet to see a high school reading list or syllabus with any meaningful Holocaust survivor works, which certainly leaves little room or interest in second generation—and now third generation—Holocaust literature.
Enter Connecticut’s Michael Barrett. If you’re one of the few people in Fairfield County law enforcement who don’t know him, then you’re missing out on a remarkable man. Retired veteran Westport Police Department Detective. Noted Statewide sketch composite artist. Jazz musician. Private detective. And gifted writer who has reminds us of the devastating aftershocks of the Holocaust in his thrilling and thoughtful novel Shoshana…
Unless you know them personally (as I do), you cannot really appreciate the ripple effect–or “aftershocks” as Michael Barrett describes in his novel–that the Holocaust has foisted on the offspring of Holocaust survivors. They grew up with parents who endured unspeakable torture and trauma, who can barely talk about the atrocities, who are emotionally distant and detached, trusting of no one, and who must battle nightmares day and night, all while trying to function as parents and members of modern-day society. Living with parents like this, or even grandparents (as third-generation Holocaust survivors do) is an emotional challenge. My former Fordham law professor Thane Rosenbaum tackled some of these issues in his compelling book Second Hand Smoke.
Michael Barrett’s Shoshana recounts the fictional plight of a female Mossad agent who befriends rookie Connecticut police officer Artie Donnelly, gifted in composite sketch drawing. She brings him a 40-year-old photo of a Nazi soldier who tortured her parents in a concentration camp. Shoshana believes he has escaped war crimes prosecution by hiding and re-creating himself on the East Coast and begs Artie to assist her in sketching his likeness 40 years later to allow her to hunt him down, kidnap him, and bring him to Israel to face prosecution. In struggling with the moral and legal dilemma of doing right by Shoshana and not aiding and abetting an illegal kidnapping, Artie learns of the struggles of a second generation Holocaust survivor and the feelings of grief, vengeance, anger, sadness and depression she has suffered as a result of their parents’ torture, all while managing his conflicting feelings of pursuing moral justice that may very well cost him his job and reputation.
Barrett seamlessly weaves this highly charged story into familiar Fairfield County neighborhoods and police precincts—from the swanky back-country estates of a Westport Connecticut-type town to the gritty streets of its neighboring Bridgeport-Connecticut facsimile town. Appropriate homage is paid to well-known and regarded police and defense attorneys.
But the substance of the book is its heart—raw emotion with real history that hits home for anyone whose family has ever been touched and tainted by anti-Semitism, racism or any kind of hate. That’s what this book is about. Understanding how hate and anti-Semitism transcends generations is one of the take-aways of this book for not only Jews or their sympathizers, but anyone with compassion and an open mind, especially in today’s climate where bullies run rampant, and people are cheering over the thought of walls being erected between cultures and countries, both literal and proverbial. The book is well-researched and Barrett’s numerous references to Jewish lore, scripture and even Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice reveal that the scholar (specifically English major) within him is still very much in tune with timeless themes of prejudice and revenge.
So if you want an original and thought-provoking local Connecticut-based thriller, go buy Shoshanna (here’s the link).