Time's Arrow by Martin Amis

Amis' protagonist is a disembodied voice living another man's life backward--he begins at death, slowly grows younger, meets lovers at the moment of break-up and leaves them with the quiet grace of a first meeting. He is concerned that the world doesn't make any sense. His host is a doctor and a horror: people come to the hospital perfectly healthy and happy, then are mangled beyond recognition and leave in tears. How can this make any sense? And so, as preparations are made for war (as countries repair the damage of war), the protagonist becomes more and more excited about the world being fixed by this sudden violence. Perhaps you see where this is going. Imagine, says Amis, the bodies of the Jews being taken from the ovens, revived with gas, and then clothed and reunited with their families, tearfully returned to their homes and welcomed into German society.

What tells me that this is right? What tells me that ll the rest was wrong? Certainly not my aesthetic sense. I would never claim that Auschwitz-Birkenau-Monowitz was good to look at. Or to listen to, or to smell, or to taste, or to touch. There was among my colleagues there, a general though desultory quest for greater elegance. I can understand that word, and ll its yearning: elegant. Not for its elegance did I come to love the evening sky above the Vitula, hellish red with the gathering souls. Creation is easy. Also ugly. Hier ist kein warum. Here there is no why. Here there is no when, no how, no where. Our preternatural purpose? To dream a race. To make a people from the weather. From thunder and from lightening. With gas, with electricity, with shit, with fire. [120]

Brilliant. The only way events like the Holocaust can possibly make sense is if they're experienced backwards.

It startles me how much I am suddenly obsessed with the Holocaust. Sunday's Psalm included a line about God counting all the stars and knowing all their names. I remember God saying to Abram--who was also told to sacrifice his only son Isaac to the glory of God--that his descendants would number as the stars--the Jews are numerous and so beloved of God that God knows every single one of their names. Every person who died in World War II is known and beloved. And, if we look at the story backwards, it all makes sense. Only when told in reverse, the Holocaust--the holy fire, the sacrifice--is indeed holy.