by Len Lear
There have literally been too many Holocaust-themed novels to count, and the newest novel from Mt. Airy author Jeffrey S. Markovitz, “Permanent for Now,” which was published on Dec. 18 by Unsolicited Press, appears to fit into that category. Markovitz himself, however, ultimately dissents from that view.
“I do not consider this book a Holocaust novel,” he told us last week. “It will inevitably be seen as such, but I reject the notion. The Holocaust was not an event; it was the result of a part of our human condition. ‘Permanent for Now,’ then, is a novel that looks into that condition, which happens to be best on display at that time in history.”
“Permanent for Now” is a novel told in three timelines — Dresden, Germany, between the world wars, a death camp during WWII and contemporary America — that “examines the binary of good and evil within the individual and the penchant of historical tragedy to determine which power triumphs. It is circumstance and not latent identity that can generate the goodness and evil we believe to be so innate.”
An old man, believed to be a Holocaust survivor, maintains an impassable guilt over his survival and befriends a shamed Philadelphia police detective, Lombard South, who persuades the old man to go on a cross-country road trip to visit the Holocaust memorials of various cities in an effort to remember and reconcile past sins. The plot evolves in unpredictable ways, propelled by compelling storytelling craft.
“In truth,” said Markovitz, “I had no interest in writing a Holocaust novel … But I am a witness of witnesses, and as those who did directly suffer from it are increasingly not alive anymore, it becomes the job of descendants to continue striking the bell before it tolls out. More literally, my interests were in the overly-done literary trope of the good and evil dichotomy of the human spirit; where else was this so much at play than in the Holocaust? It seems that history has dictated where my work is set.”
Markovitz, 36, grew up in Newark, Delaware, but has lived in Philadelphia for the past 11 years. He has a BA in English and Psychology from The University of Delaware, an MA in English Literature from West Chester University and a PhD in Literature and Criticism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2017. He has taught at Community College of Philadelphia, where he is an assistant professor of English, for 11 years. He previously authored “Into the Everything” (Punkin House, 2011) and a short story chapbook, “The Head and the Hand” (2013).
The first draft of “Permanent for Now” took Markovitz just two months to write. “This surprises most people, but writers will tell you drafting takes far less time than the pre- and post-writing. I then revised for eight years. I spent many days at the Parkway Central branch of the Free Library in the summer of 2010 reading countless accounts of the Holocaust and its abuses. I also traveled to Dresden, Germany, and Auschwitz to photograph, further research and develop a sense for the places that would become central to the book.”
The idea for “Permanent for Now” was born in a high school military history class where Markovitz was taught about the evil done by the Nazis. “I identify as Jewish but acknowledged the people who participated in the Holocaust were not monsters but people. I, too, was a person. In short, that young, I was fearful that in my human heart was the same potential for great wrong that was in the human hearts of the Nazis.
“I became immediately interested in and invested in how (if at all) I was different from them. What decades of living, studying, reading and traveling taught me was that it has a lot to do with circumstance. What happens to us constitutes much of how we act. This central theme stayed with me until I started writing, where it reared again and moved me to narrate the idea through literature.”
What was the hardest thing Markovitz ever had to do? “Literarily? To cut. I’ve learned the violent art of cutting massive sections of literary texts, including whole chapters and characters. At first, it felt like murder; now, it feels kind of good. Scary decadent, to just erase something I worked so hard on.”
What is the best advice the Mt. Airy author ever received? “Trust the work. This novel took eight years to publish and was under contract twice before; the previous presses went belly-up. I was told that regardless of the market, the industry, the criticisms, the reactions, the copies sold —trust what you do as an artist. Trust your work.”
Markovitz wanted to mention “my wife, Amy, who allows for the time and concentration of my work; my obligatorily named son, Emerson, and my mother, Debbie, to whom the novel is dedicated.”
For more information, visit jeffreysmarkovitz.wordpress.com