The Fiftieth Gate - Mark Raphael Baker

The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Raphael Baker,  is part of the "History and Memory" elective for the HSC advanced English course. In an effort to keep myself up to date with all the prescribed texts for the HSC (and it is a long list, let me tell you) I read this book.

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir, Historical
Year Published: 1997
Publisher: HarperCollins
Awards: NSW Premier′s Literary Award 1997
Rating: 2.5/5

A love story and a detective story, a study of history and of memory, this spellbinding new work explores a son's confrontation with the terror of his parent's childhood. 

Moving from Poland and Germany to Jerusalem and Melbourne, Mark Raphael Baker travels across the silence of fifty years, through the gates of Auschwitz, and into the dark bunker where a little girl hides in fear. As he returns to the scenes of his parents' captivity, he struggles to unveil the mystery of their survival. 

The Fiftieth Gate is a journey from despair and death towards hope and life; the story of a son who enters his parents' memories and, inside the darkness, finds light.

I picked up this book as a teacher and read it as a teacher. Being a prescribed text, I read it looking for links to the syllabus and HSC module it relates to. I don't know if that coloured my perception of this book somewhat, as I  did not enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. 

This book is written in two ways. Half as a stream of memory from Baker's parents and half an academic, historical perspective from Baker's own research on the holocaust. Because of this, I found the text quite disjointed and hard to read.  I struggled to get through the first half of this book, although the second half seemed easier to read.

The stories of Baker's parents were very sad and are both very important. I am a firm believer in teaching and reading much about the atrocities of the holocaust as it was such a dark time in the history of the world and like all tragic and horrible events, people don't like to talk about it, because it is too painful. I can understand that, but I also feel that to prevent something like this happening again, people need to be aware. 

That said, I do find reading about the holocaust and survivor accounts difficult. This was no exception. Baker takes his father back to Auschtwitz, where he walks his son through his ordeal. This was pretty heavy reading. But, as I stated earlier, important. 

This book is the perfect text for the "history and memory" elective as it highlights both historical facts and personal memory of the holocaust. It also asks the question of how reliable is memory? and what is more important, getting the "facts" or hearing someone's perspective on what happened?

From a educational perspective, this is a valuable text and I respect Baker and his parents for having the courage to create this book. 

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