Michel Laub translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa

Diary of the Fall

Publication Date: Aug 26, 2014

225 pp


List Price US $20.00
Trim Size (H x W): 4.5 x 7
ISBN: 9781590516515


List Price US $16.95
ISBN: 9781590516522

From one of Granta’s Best Young Brazilian Novelists, a literary masterpiece that will break your heart

At the narrator’s elite Jewish school in a posh suburb of Porte Alegre, a cruel prank leaves the only Catholic student there terribly injured. Years later, he relives the episode as he examines the mistakes of his past and struggles for forgiveness. His father, who has Alzheimer’s, obsessively records every memory that comes to mind, and his grandfather, who survived Auschwitz, fills notebook after notebook with the false memories of someone desperate to forget.

This powerful novel centered on guilt and the complicated legacy of history asks provocative questions about what it means to be Jewish in the twenty-first century.

 Teaching Guide available

Excerpt from Diary of the Fall

1. My grandfather didn’t like to talk about the past, which is not so very surprising given its nature: the fact that he was a Jew, had arrived in Brazil on one of those jam-packed ships, as one of the cattle for whom history appears to have ended when they were twenty, or thirty, or forty or whatever, and for whom all that’s left is a kind of memory that comes and goes and that can turn out to be an even worse prison than the one they were in.

2. In my grandfather’s notebooks, there is no mention of that journey at all. I don’t know where he boarded the ship, if he managed to get some sort of documentation before he left, if he had any money or at least an inkling of what awaited him in Brazil. I don’t know how long the crossing lasted, whether it was windy or calm, whether they were struck by a storm one night in the early hours, whether he even cared if the ship went down and he died in what would seem a highly ironic manner, in a dark whirlpool of ice and with no hope of being remembered by anyone except as a statistic—a fact that would sum up his entire biography, swallowing up any reference to the place where he had spent his childhood and the school where he studied and everything else that had happened in his life in the interval between being born and the day he had a number tattooed on his arm.

“Finally, a novel about the relationship between Judaism’s past and present that explores new territory instead of adding yet another set of tired footprints to overworked ground. Diary of the Fall is a refreshingly honest and startlingly original book.” —Myla Goldberg, bestselling author of Bee Season and The False Friend

“Margaret Jull Costa’s achievement is nothing less than heroic.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Finely wrought.” —The Boston Globe

“Extraordinary…Knowledge is played with in this book, and the way in which Auschwitz has become a literary conceit, a literary cliché. It is about the globalisation of the Holocaust and that history.” Devorah Baum, judge for the JQ-Wingate Prize

“As much a novella as a novel, and as much a meditation as a novella, Laub’s first book published in English probes the emotional and psychological legacy a Jewish son inherits from his father and grandfather.” —Publishers Weekly

“A spare and meditative story that captures the long aftereffects of tragedy.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Brutal yet delicate…attempts to understand man’s basic identity, ‘part of a past that is likewise of no importance compared to what I am and will be.’” —Justin Alvarez, Paris Review blog

“[A] deeply satisfying novel…Michael Laub’s expansive story will haunt you long after you encounter the resolution.” —CounterPunch

“[A] crisply taut novella.” —The Brooklyn Rail

“[F]ormally experimental but also emotionally moving.” —Full Stop Magazine

“Michel Laub has constructed a painful, relentless and ultimately beautiful portrait of three generations, whose stories, told in parallel, culminate in the most innocent and surprising expression of love. A rewarding and excellent read.” —Martin Fletcher, author of Walking Israel, winner of the National Jewish Book Award

“Beautiful, profound, and masterfully structured….overflows with a lucid, sober, oddly uplifting wisdom. I was humbled by this book, amazed by Michel Laub’s ability to shuttle between three generations, to again and again confront the madness of his family’s unimaginable past in such a way as to recognize and respond to it in his own unruly present.” —Todd Hasak-Lowy, author of The Task of This Translator

“Michel Laub’s Diary of the Fall (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) is a powerful exploration of memory and guilt, drawing connections between a disastrous high-school prank and the Holocaust.” —The Guardian (UK)

“I have already found a contender for my book of 2014.” —Herald (UK)

“A gripping, thoughtful novel, fluidly translated…By focusing on an act of childhood brutality and its mundane consequences, Laub beautifully retrieves the tragedy of the holocaust from its scholarship, politics and deniers, cutting to the bone of human life, its longings and limitations.” —The Independent (UK)

“Laub makes an eloquent statement about the human condition, and how we can learn to live despite it.” —Bookslut

“Laub’s is a fine, complex piece of writing that examines questions of guilt and responsibility for crimes large and small, and how, if possible, to atone for them.” —New Statesman (UK)

“The remarkable quality of the book resides in its construction….Diary of the Fall’s long ribbons of prose create a work of immense incantatory power.” —Neel Mukherjee, Literary Review (UK)

“This riveting read challenges how we choose to tell others our life story and how events make us into the people we are.” —The Sun (UK)

“May well emerge as one of the finest novels published in English this year.” —Irish Times

“Powerful .” —Irish Examiner

“An absolutely impeccable writer.” —NoMínimo

“The best Brazilian writer of the new generation.” —Terra Magazine

“As with Milton Hatoum, in Michel Laub there is always…a subtle touch at the most dramatic moments.” —Estado de S. Paulo

“A courageous and staggering novel.” —NRC Handelsblad

“Even while reading it for the second time, the story held me captive.” —De Groene Amsterdammer

“[A] beautiful novel.” —Het Parool

Diary of the Fall is utterly convincing. It’s an original and thought-provoking exploration of the way history casts its ripples through generations.” —Bookmunch

“Laub’s prose is compelling, his ideas intelligent, and I devoured the book in a day. Let’s hope we see more of this fantastic Brazilian writer’s work in translation.” – Kate J. Wilson, One Day Perhaps You’ll Know Blog

“Beauty resides, almost discreetly, in the poetic plot [and] inviting, flowing prose … Therein lies Laub’s art, a style that seems to touch things without leaving a mark, without oppressing or disfiguring what is written.” —Vox

“A powerful novel.” —The Northern Echo

“A brutally honest reflection on the power that memory holds over us all.” —The Literary Review

Diary of the Fall is an example of what great literature can do: make the personal universal, and in so doing reveal new corners of human experience. In one small book, Diary of the Fall speaks of tradition, human cruelty, the Holocaust, immigration, the bond between fathers and sons, and how the past is never quite finished with us.” —Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)

“This is an emotional hand grenade, one of the most devastating and powerful works I’ve read in some time. As Laub’s narrator traces his own downfall and delves into the trauma that ripples through his family history, I found myself propelled forward and backward with him, unable to resist this small novel’s terrible gravity or the narrator’s powerful honesty. Diary of the Fall is one of those rare books that doesn’t just hold your attention, it demands it. I simply couldn’t stop reading.” —Tom Flynn, 57th Street Books (Chicago, IL)

“Beautiful language illuminates the deep philosophical questions in this compelling memoir-style novel of a young Jewish man, his father, and his grandfather, each with a life-defining event. So much packed into one slim volume—a perfect book club read—I couldn’t wait to share this one.” —Jaime McCauley, RJ Julia Booksellers (Madison, CT)

“Alcoholism, Alzheimer’s and Auschwitz, and what can be said about them when everything has been said. I hope we’ll see more of Laub.” —Greg Kimball, Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park, WA)


Teaching Guide also available

1. What is the relationship between the prank the boys play on João and the cruelties the narrator’s grandfather faced in Nazi Germany? Are any similarities between João and the speaker’s grandfather?

2. Each of the three men in the novel—the narrator, his father, and his grandfather—record histories. What does this act accomplish for each of them? Are there any similarities in the way they record these histories? Are the histories they record accurate reflections of their realities? Does history hold any power over their lives? If so, how does it play out? What is the relationship between history and telling—or not telling—one’s own story; the relationship between memory, history, and storytelling?

3. How does the structure of the book—that of a diary—shape the narrative that is told?

4. The narrator often remarks, “I don’t know” (for example, pp 3, 23, 24, 63). Are there other phrases of uncertainty that he uses? How does this lack of knowledge or certainty relate to his grandfather’s memoir, his father’s illness, and the nature of memory in general? How does this relate to the guilt the narrator feels over the prank played on João and the initial distance he feels from his Jewish heritage?

5. Several sections of the novel begin with “A Few Things I Know About My Grandfather/Father/Self.” At the beginning of each of these respective sections, who does the narrator begin speaking of? Why do you think Michel Laub structured the novel in this way?

6. “There’s nothing more difficult when you’re thirteen than changing your label.” The narrator says this in reference to his cutting ties with his old friends. Could his grandfather’s insistence in never mentioning his experiences at Auschwitz also be described as an effort to change his “label”?

7. What is the significance of such a large portion of the story taking place when the narrator is thirteen?

8. Discuss the relationship between imagining and knowing in the novel. Keep in mind the uncertainty the narrator repeatedly expresses and the following passage from page 196: “…my grandfather’s memoir can be summed up in the phrase the world as it should be, which presupposes an opposite idea: the world as it really is.”

9. What is “the fall” that the title of the novel references? Does it manifest in more than one way? Does “the fall” seem to have the same effect on João that it has on the narrator? Is there more than one character who suffers through a “fall”?

10. What is the purpose of repetition in the novel? (See “hygiene,” pp 39, 111, 142; “Auschwitz,” pp 143, 150–151; “a repetition of what I did on his birthday,” p 176; “because that would be a reminder of what I was capable of doing to him over and over again,” p 177; “the nonviability of human experience at all times and in all places,” pp 205, 215, 217.)

11. On page 157 the narrator says, “because if Auschwitz had killed only one person on the grounds of ethnicity or religious belief, the mere existence of such a place would be just as appalling.” How does this relate to the prank that was played in João? What are the wider implications of the statement?

12. Do you think the novel says anything definitive about the nature of cruelty?