Project Description

Photo from the Schnitzer family collection

A novel by Deborah Schnitzer

Two children—bright, sensitive ten-year-old Anne-Gertrude and her younger brother, Stellar, barely seven—believe their family is threatened by a stranger taking pictures of them around their lakeside home. This anonymous man soon takes on monstrous proportions, in part because Anne-Gertrude’s burgeoning imagination and self-awareness are stoked by her exposure to Holocaust films—a macabre fascination encouraged by Geraldine, the children’s favored aunt.

The children’s terror magnifies when their mother, Eurydice, stumbles while cross-country skiing and the fall leaves her comatose. As her mother lies uncommunicative and helpless, Anne-Gertrude encounters a spectral visitor named Orpheus, who appears at her bedside during the night. Orpheus leaves behind chapters from a book revealing stories of extermination as well as the policies and practices that consumed Nazi Germany and informed the postwar imagination. As Eurydice awakens, her children—poisoned by family secrets and the lies their elders have long hidden—renounce their mother, with tragic consequences.

In poetic language reminiscent of Gertrude Stein and Marguerite Duras, The Woman Who Swallowed West Hawk Lake brings to life the effects of the Holocaust on a modern family. Its blurred realms, its dreamlike sequences and visual poetry, its book-within-a-book elements, and its mythological themes all intensify the horror of the Holocaust—a catastrophe whose dimensions can never be sedated, assimilated, or neutralized. With West Hawk Lake, Deborah joins writers such as W. G. Sebald and Cynthia Ozick in examining the Holocaust’s as a work of imagination transformed by historical evidence.

Read an Excerpt