What David Albahari’s Götz and Meyer is basically about can be read from the back cover:
Believing they were being taken to a better camp, Belgrade’s Jews would climb into the truck with a sense of relief. Mainly women, children and the elderly, they expected a long and uncomfortable trip but, after crossing the river, their journey would come to an abrupt end. Here the drivers would get out and attach a hose from the exhaust to the back of the truck…
In 1942 the Nazis systematically exterminated the majority of Serbia’s Jews using carbon monoxide and specially designed trucks.
The only information the narrator of this bleakly comic novel can find about the summer when his relatives disappeared is the names of the truck drivers: Götz and Meyer. During his research he becomes fascinated by the unknowable characters and the daily lives of these men. But his imagination proves a dangerous force, and his obsession with the past threatens to overwhelm him.
Written as one long monologue, Götz and Meyer takes the form of one long paragraph of 167 pages. Fiction and reality is blurred in the lengthy, often repetitive, and flat recounting of details that sometimes become an unbearable read. This form must not be mistaken simply as an imbalanced application of style though. Sometimes a horror is so extraordinary that the use of ordinary narrative styles to render it is insufficient to evoke or do justice to it.
It is said that literature works best where history fails. Nowhere does this much repeated trope hold truer than in the tragic experience of the Belgrade Jews during the Second World War and Albahari’s endeavor to write about it. ■