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Fires in the Dark    by Louise Doughty Amazon.com order for
Fires in the Dark
by Louise Doughty
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HarperCollins, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

When Louise Doughty researched her family's roots, she discovered that she was descended from the Romany people, one of many nomadic tribes of gypsies. Along the way, she came up with the meat for an unusual novel (her fourth) dealing with the World War II treatment of these peoples.

Frantisek Ruzicka is born in 1927 in a derelict barn in the Moravian countryside. A hard, but satisfying, lifestyle is ended by the Second World War when gypsies as well as Jews are shipped off to work camps. Fires in the Dark is a tribute to the indomitable will that exists in humankind to survive. Frantisek despairs as his family is separated and sent to different barracks in a work camp in Moravia. The Romany family is a unit harm one and they are all harmed.

Doughty is a powerful writer and depicts the agonies suffered by her characters as though she herself were there. The brutality of the camp guards has been written about since the cessation of the war in great detail. It is one thing to read dispassionate historical writings of these atrocities but quite another to almost experience it oneself, which is what the author manages to bring to the reader - a sense of taking part in a brutal time. Scenes are built with a fine eye for detail. The characterizations are heart rending at times, so real do they seem.

This is a hard book to read because of the content, but also a work of art that is a gift to the reader. A whole people come alive under the author's scrutiny and beg to be heard. I can only echo the novel's quote of Primo Levi from If This Is A Man, 'Today, at this very moment as I sit writing at a table, I myself am not convinced that these things really happened.' It is indeed hard to believe that such brutality can find a home in another human being.

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