Art as a Second Language
Bernice Eisenstein’s novel I was a Child of Holocaust Survivors uses both art and modern language to express the feelings and emotions associated with her family’s traumatic history. Eisenstein blends images throughout her work to help the readers gain a better understanding of the emotional journey that she has undertaken through writing this novel. Not only does she tell the story of her life but she also incorporates the life stories of her family and community. She uses images to further express feelings which cannot be articulated in words. Not only does she use images throughout the story to visually represent things she uses extreme language and comparisons to demonstrate her desire to understand her families past in order to understand herself.
Throughout the novel, I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors, Eisenstein explores the boundaries of graphic literature as well as memoir writing. The combination of the two forms of literature is used to draw attention to the repercussions of growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust. The images which are interspersed throughout the novel allow the reader to gain a better understanding of the emotions that the narrator is trying to express. The images she portrays are carefully drawn and placed throughout the work to reinforce a particular point or to express something which is impossible to articulate in words. In a literature review Margot Kaminsky states: “The illustrations are necessary, not ancillary, to the story and its main points. Eisenstein creates thoughtful links between the captioned images and the text. Quotations that originally spout from a drawn character's mouth reappear much later in written sentences. Images also repeat themselves, creating a universe that reverberates.” (Kaminsky). Without the illustrations the reader would not grasp the entirety of the novel and Eisenstein’s purpose for writing the novel would be lost. The illustrations allow the readers to gain insight not only into story but the sentiment that Eisenstein is trying to depict. In an interview, Eisenstein comments on her choice of combining both graphic art and modern language into her book: “Image and words were natural tools, even though I did not consider myself to be a writer. Drawing, using it as a language, is more innate to me. But I found that writing was needed as well since neither one alone seemed capable of complete expression. […] I felt that both could take me deeper into reflection about my family, the Holocaust, how they had shaped me. And what I had made of them.” (Pan Macmillan). Eisenstein felt that both art and language were necessary to express her true thoughts; neither one was strong enough individually. Although there is ambiguity to the images, they serve as a universal medium that everyone can understand and take meaning from.
Although Eisenstein did not directly experience the Holocaust, her entire life was formed around what had occurred to her parents during that time. She grew up within a community of Holocaust survivors, whose lives and everyday interactions formed who she is as a person; their past directly influenced the way she lived her life and she became obsessed with finding out about the Holocaust. The story not only examines how Eisenstein’s family history formed her present life but also how she has come to understand who she is and how she has come to live her life outside of the Holocaust. Writing her story served as a therapeutic way of moving on with her life outside of the Holocaust. Throughout the novel she describes her obsession of the Holocaust like a heroine addiction: “The Holocaust is a drug and I have entered an opium den, […] I will discover that there is no end to the dealers I can find for just one more hit, one more entry into the hallucinatory world of ghost. My parents don’t even realize that they are the drug dealers. They could never imagine the kind of high H gives. The way its makes me want to...
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