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9 May: Naomi Gryn, ‘André Schwarz-Bart’s The Last of the Just: Can there be Beauty in Barbarity?’

Naomi Gryn revisits The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart, first published in France in 1959. Schwarz-Bart’s debut novel was a literary sensation; it won the Prix Goncourt, sold more than a million copies and was translated into 20 languages. Based on the Kabbalistic tradition that in every generation 36 righteous people save the world from destruction, The Last of the Just is a magical realist interpretation of Schwarz-Bart’s wartime experiences, and an act of mourning for the senseless slaughter of Europe’s Jews, including his own parents and brothers, deported to Auschwitz when he was 13 years old. In 2019 Naomi made a documentary for BBC Radio 4 – The Last of the Just: Finding Beauty in Barbarity – travelling to Paris to walk in the footsteps of the novel’s main character, Ernie Levy, and to meet the author’s widow, Simone, an eminent author in her own right, and their son, Jacques, a jazz saxophonist. His recent album – a tribute to his father’s memory – draws inspiration from both his parents’ past – the Voodoo faith of his mother’s African ancestors and chants from the Jewish liturgical heritage of his father’s family. The programme is still available on BBC Sounds at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000dnd7. Naomi will examine why this haunting, sometimes heart-breaking elegy for the innocence extinguished by the Holocaust is still so urgent and compelling, and why, despite the book’s enormous success, Andre Schwarz-Bart disappeared from public view.

Naomi Gryn is a writer and makes documentaries for radio and TV. Born in New York, she lives in London and has worked across the film and television industry. She has written articles, reviews and short stories for many publications as well as co-authoring and editing her father’s (Rabbi Hugo Gryn) memoirs, Chasing Shadows for Viking/Penguin (2000) and Three Minutes of Hope: Hugo Gryn on the God Slot for Continuum Books (2010). She is contributing editor to The Jewelry Icon and chairman of The Essayists, a group of writers that meet to study essays.

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