Pittsburgher’s old novel about an invisible Holocaust survivor with special powers

“Disappearance”
‎ Library Tales Publishing (September 2022)

“The Vanishing,” the story of an invisible girl who fights to save her young friend during the Holocaust, is the latest novel by acclaimed author and former Pittsburgher David Michael Slater. Slater has written over 30 fiction and non-fiction books for readers of all ages and lives in Reno, Nevada, where he works as a teacher.

Slater’s novel focuses on Sophie Siegel, a young German Jewish girl, and her closest friend, Giddy Goldfarb. After Sophie’s parents are murdered in front of her by two Nazi officers for breaking the Nuremberg Laws, a part of Sophie also dies – the part that is visible to the rest of the world. With this new gift of invisibility, Sophie spends the rest of the war using her power to protect Giddy, the boy a few years younger than her who lives in the house next door.

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Sophie exposes herself to the horrors of the Holocaust to protect Giddy as much as possible. The two travel from their German town, where they live under the strict decrees of the Nuremberg Laws, to a filthy ghetto and the depraved concentration camp that follows, to a group of partisans trying to survive in the harsh woods and beyond. of the. Thanks to Sophie and Giddy, the reader gets a general overview of the different experiences lived by the Jews during the Holocaust.

This story is as much Giddy’s as it is Sophie’s and, at times, it feels like it’s mostly Giddy’s, simply told through Sophie’s lens. In this way, Sophie’s invisibility is skillfully translated into the prose, as well as the plot.

Although labeled as a Holocaust revenge fantasy, the book treats Holocaust victims with great respect. Although it re-imagines certain historical details – especially in its climactic scene towards the end – it does so in a way that fits its characters and its narrative and does not diminish or ignore the suffering and sacrifice of the people. Jewish.

Perhaps a more apt description for the genre of this novel would be magical realism. “The Vanishing” is set in the real world and features real historical events, but with a dash of the supernatural mixed in. Besides Sophie’s invisibility, several Jewish mythological creatures are explained throughout the story, including dybbuks and golems. As Sophie takes charge of Giddy, it is implied that she becomes his personal golem.
This novel is a quick read and explains all the Jewish rituals and traditions it mentions, making it accessible to readers of all faiths. The characters have distinct personalities, and the Yiddish phrases many of them use lend a sense of nostalgia and authenticity to the writing.

Despite this, much of the novel’s description, particularly of Sophie’s emotions, is told instead of shown to the reader. The prose is generally straightforward and not particularly ornate, but there are vivid descriptions of location and sensory detail, particularly when Slater describes the look and smell of the ghetto and its inhabitants.

The plot poses deep moral questions, such as whether taking someone’s life is justified if it saves them from horrible pain, and, alternatively, whether taking someone’s life is justified if that person took the lives of many others. Sophie, aged 11 to 15, faces these consequential dilemmas, highlighting her ongoing struggle to maintain her humanity in the face of evil and leading readers to reflect deeply on their ethical outlook.

Slater doesn’t sugarcoat the atrocities of the Holocaust, and while the writing style is more suited to the young adult genre, the novel’s themes are more appropriate for older adults. Sophie and Giddy see horror upon horror but never become completely desensitized, illustrating the resilience of children.

The novel culminates in a suspenseful scene in which Sophie has the opportunity to change the course of history forever, but must choose between physically staying with Giddy or saving him indirectly. Throughout the novel, Sophie often feels like even with her invisibility, she still can’t make a meaningful difference in such a terrible and inhumane world, which makes this fateful choice all the more difficult.

The ending, while a bit confusing, raises questions about the nature of Sophie’s invisibility, particularly her reason and permanence. Sad moments abound throughout this book, but hopeful moments, and even funny moments, are also present. This novel is devastating, but not shocking. When you reach the end of the book, there is still humanity.

“The Vanishing” is not a light read, but rather one that challenges its readers to think more critically about the kind of world they participate in and how they bravely and honorably live. PJC

Diona Dash is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia.

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