Forgetfulness Is an Incurable and Dangerous Disease

An interview with Litvak writer Grigory Kanovich by Stephan Collishaw

SC – To what extent is the novel Shtetl Love Song autobiographical?

GK – True, Shtetl Love Song is an autobiographical novel.

Your character in the novel seems very close to his grandmother and goes with her regularly to the synagogue. Is the synagogue still a part of your life?

My grandmother Rokha was a very religious person. When I was a child the synagogue played a big role in my life. There was not a single Saturday, nor a Jewish holiday when my grandmother wouldn’t take me to synagogue. My grandfather was religious, but didn’t go to synagogue so often. He joked, ‘If you hear something interesting from Him, you won’t be able to keep it from me long, you’ll tell me.’ I, myself, am not religious; the synagogue doesn’t play such a strong role in my life now as in my childhood.

You reference the mass murders that happened in Lithuania at the outbreak of the war, but do not dwell on them. Was that deliberate?

The novel is dedicated to what has been lost, to what has been destroyed — the small Jewish town. It is, in a sense, a requiem to all such Jewish towns. From the first line of my novel Devilspel until the last line of this, my last novel, all of my novels have been dedicated to that which was wiped from the face of the earth — those small towns like the one where my grandparents and great-grandparents used to live. None of them are left anymore; that Jewish world perished during World War II.

Why did your family decide to stay in Lithuania after the war?

After the war our family was drawn back to Lithuania, to the cemeteries of our relatives, because those who forget the graves of their ancestors are not worthy to be called people. Forgetfulness — it is an incurable and dangerous moral disease.

Did you ever go back to Jonava?

Yes, after the war I visited my childhood town; I am an honorary citizen of Jonava. The first time I went was straight after the war. I went there with my father and mother. Several times I went there on my own. The last time I visited was with my eldest grandson. Together we read the inscriptions on the Jewish gravestones.

Full interview here.