Is Google really a bad thing? Maybe it’s not great for the current state of knowledge, maybe its superficiality and built-in limitations keep everyone locked in a room with the same extremely partial data. But I couldn’t have written LAMENT without it. If I wasn’t looking up facts, I was using GoogleTranslate, or browsing images to feed into the story, or scrolling through old books painstakingly scanned. I can complain about Google but I shouldn’t.
Since writing the book I’ve even begun to use another Google feature: Alerts on my smartphone. These I love. I feel a sense of mastery over my mental life sometimes when my thumb goes to tap a promising GoogleAlert, as if I were an incredibly well dressed contemporary art curator.
Two recent ones brought writing on two different settings in LAMENT. In May, the Washington Post published an essay by Gershom Gorenberg whose family came from Obodovka, the Ukrainian village where the novel’s heroine and her family are imprisoned, in a Jewish ghetto there, during the Second World War. Gorenberg’s grandparents left the place long before that, during the pogrom years that followed the Soviet revolution. They made it to America; Gorenberg wishes more people could say the same, then and now.
Every time I look up Obodovka on GoogleMaps, there seems to be less of it left. The town that existed never recovered from what happened to Jews there.
At the Jewish Review of Books more recently, Allan Nadler discusses the Yiddish writer Der Nister. A contemporary of Dovid Bergelson who also visited Birobidzhan and promoted it to a Yiddish-speaking Soviet public, he also paid with his life after the war during Stalin’s merciless anti-Jewish campaign.
Birobidzhan looks sunny in parts and moderately populated by girls with blue hair. The giant radio antenna on the Sopka must still keep it off-limits to climbers, one sad change.