The Best Holocaust Literature Isn’t Ostensibly About the Holocaust

“Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth and “Kalooki Nights” by Howard Jacboson are Safran Foer’s picks for the best novels about the Holocaust—even though they are not explicitly about the genocide.
  • Transcript


Question: Are there ethical concerns about writing about the Holocaust or other cultural traumas, and which books have handled them the best?

Jonathan Safran Foer: I don’t think there are any ethical concerns.  I think that one can create things that are bad.  You know, one can create things that are bad, should say as a work of art, but also feel morally questionable.  But I don’t think those are things that one should be asking in advance of making something.  In terms of the best Holocaust literature, it really all depends on what you mean by holocaust literature.  I think some of the best books written about the holocaust don’t feature the holocaust at all in any explicit way.  Books like "Portnoy’s Complaint," for example, or books like "Kalooki Nights," by Howard Jacobsen.  These are books that take place, in the first case in America and in the second case in London, but have everything to do with the reverberations of that event even if it’s not made that explicit.  So maybe those are my two answers.

Recorded on August 26, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller