Friday, April 9, 2010

Tough Girl Detective Tackles Holocaust Reparations

Chicago author, Sara Paretsky's fictional Chicago detective V. I. Warshawski digs into the issue of reparations for Jewish Holocaust survivors, and the descendants of American slaves, in 2001's Total Recall. The Warshawski formula features major villainy on the part of the rich and powerful, reflected by the indifference of the police and other institutions, rudeness on the parts of minor characters, and perversity and skepticism among friends and others who should know better. In Total Recall, an unstable man, who may have recovered memories of the Holocaust under hypnosis, appears, opening old wounds for Warshawski's friend and mentor, Lottie Herschel, whose family did perish. The personal turmoil distracts Warshawski from the case she should concentrate on, that of a black widow refused -- on the funeral day -- payment of her husband's burial insurance. Coincidence gradually weaves the two stories together, with the reader puzzling over several mysteries.

In the novel, the American insurer, merged with a Swiss company, lobbies against a bill in the state legislature to force audits of Illinois insurers which had been active in pre-War Europe. Warshawski says this would turn the Swiss company's expected gold mine into a bankruptcy court.

Americans could expect similar results if our society were to indemnify the descendants of slaves -- or first Americans -- for the wealth that their ancestors built but couldn't bequeath. Haiti could bankrupt the French, if France were to make it whole for the ninety million Francs the Haitians paid for their freedom. I'm thinking of asking the English Crown to pay for its occupation of Eire. You can make your own list.

The interesting mystery is, "Where did the money go?"

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