Jon Clinch‘s new novel, The Thief of Auschwitz, departs somewhat from his first two critically acclaimed novels, Finn and Kings of the Earth. Whereas Finn and Kings of the Earth dealt with American stories and voices, The Thief of Auschwitz is set primarily at the Nazi death camp notorious for its atrocities against Jewish people. Furthermore, Clinch chose to self-publish The Thief of Auschwitz, rather than go through a traditional publishing house as he did with his first two novels. The result is the first literary novel to receive critical acclaim with reviews in leading media.
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The Thief of Auschwitz begins with the voice of octogenarian Max Rosen: “The camp at Auschwitz took one year of my life, and of my own free will I gave it another four.” A provocative opening sentence for sure. Max goes on to describe himself as, “the last believer in looking at things the way they are, and reporting back.” He’s a renowned painter now living in New York and reluctantly organizing a retrospective of his work at the invitation of the National Gallery. He’s cantankerous and critical, taking frequent swipes at Andrew Wyeth and his Helga.
Unfolding through Max’s craggy impressions of today’s art world come his reflection of the years spent at Auschwitz. Some of the story is told by Max, yet the majority of the story rolls out in cinematic third person. After evading Nazis for more than a year, Max and his sister, Lydia, along with their parents, Jacob and Eidel, are captured and taken to the Auschwitz work camp. It’s known at the camps that children cannot contribute to the work, so they are immediately exterminated like unwanted pests. Lydia is only 12 and is sorted into the children’s death queue immediately. The women are separated from the men. Max, tall and sturdy for his age of 14, takes his father’s advice and tells the registrar he’s 18. This is where the story begins.
Throughout his life Max is haunted by the camp, but even more so by self-comparison of his work to that of his mother. A talented and self-taught painter, Eidel carries with her to the camp only one painting—a beautiful portrait of Lydia. This portrait plays a crucial role in Max’s survival, while forging a secret he carries with him forever.
Many authors have written about Nazis and death camps and memorialized the people who died there. Each of those novels have their place in the canon of Holocaust literature. The Thief of Auschwitz rises to the top of that canon, painting the horrors of camp life and survival with elegiac strokes, while portraying shades of humanity behind the Nazi masks.
Born and raised in the remote heart of upstate New York, Jon Clinch has been an English teacher, a metalworker, a folksinger, an illustrator, a typeface designer, a housepainter, a copywriter, and an advertising executive.
Jon has lectured and taught widely, in settings as varied as the National Council of Teachers of English, Williams College, the Mark Twain House and Museum, and Pennsylvania State University. In 2008 he organized a benefit reading for the financially ailing Twain House—enlisting such authors as Tom Perrotta and Stewart O’Nan—an event that literally saved the house from bankruptcy.
Jon lives with his wife, Wendy—founder of TheSkiDiva.com, the internet’s premier site for women who ski—in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Follow Jon Clinch on Twitter: @JonClinch.