History: This book was published in 1982. Keneally was inspired to write the book by Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. and his actions in saving Polish Jews from the Nazis.
In 1980 Keneally went into Pfefferberg's shop in Beverly Hills to buy a briefcase. Keneally had just finished a book -signing in Beverly Hills and was on his way home to Australia. Pfefferberg, learning that Keneally was a novelist, showed him his extensive files on Schindler, kept in two cabinets in his back room. After 50 minutes of entreaties, Pfefferberg was finally able to convince Keneally to write the book; and Pfefferberg became an advisor, accompanying Keneally to Poland where
they visited Kraków and other sites associated with the Schindler story. Keneally dedicated Schindler's Ark to Pfefferberg: "who by zeal and persistence caused this book to be written."
After the publication of Schindler's Ark in 1982, Pfefferberg worked to persuade Steven Spielberg to film Keneally's book, using his acquaintance with Spielberg's mother to gain access.
The awarding of the Booker Prize caused some controversy at the time: as this award is for the best fiction, it was debated on whether Keneally wrote fiction or was simply reporting on history.
Plot: This novel tells the story of Oskar Schindler, self-made entrepreneur and bon viveur who almost by default found himself saving Polish Jews from the Nazi death machine. Based on numerous eyewitness accounts, Keneally's story is unbearably moving but never melodramatic, a testament to the almost unimaginable horrors of Hitler's attempts to make Europe judenfrei, or free of Jews. What distinguishes Schindler in Keneally's version is not, superficially, kindness or idealism, but a certain gusto. He is a flawed hero; he is not "without sin". He is a drinker, a womaniser and, at first, a profiteer. After the war, he is commemorated as a "Righteous Person" at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, but he is never seen as a conventionally virtuous character. The story is not only Schindler's. It is the story of Kraków's dying ghetto and the forced labor camp outside of town, at Plaszów. It is the story of Amon Goeth, Plaszów's commandant. After the war, his business ventures fail, he separates from his wife, and he ends up living a shabby life in a small flat in Frankfurt. Eventually he arranged to live part of the year in Israel, supported by his Jewish friends, and part of the year as a sort of internal emigré in Frankfurt, where he was often hissed at in the streets as a traitor to his "race". After 29 unexceptional postwar years he died in 1974. He was buried in Jerusalem as he wished with the help of his old friend Pfefferberg.
Review: It’s a remarkable story of course and Keneally did a great job bringing it to our attention. But the storytelling is hampered, I feel, by his insistence on sticking so closely to facts that he’s reluctant to re-create any cnversation that he doesn’t have detailed records of. The book is therefore told mostly in a style that lacks any immediate dynamic, and although it is an accurate historical account, it may not be a novel.
Opening Line: "In Poland’s deepest autumn, a tall young man in an expensive overcoat, double-breasted dinner jacket – a large ornamental gold-on-black enamel swastika, emerged from a fashionable apartment block in Straszewskiego Street on the edge of the ancient centre of Cracow, and saw his cheauffeur waiting with fuming breath by the open door of an enormous, and even in this blackened world, lustrous Adler limousine."
Closing Line: "He was mourned in every continent."
Quotes: "All children would go to Tarnow to be shot, to Stutthof to be drowned, to Breslau to be indoctrinated, deracinated, operated upon. Do you have an elderly parent? They are taking everyone over fifty to the Wieliczka salt mines. To work? No. To seal them up in disused chambers."