In The Pages, Hugo Hamilton writes a compelling story about a curious young woman through the voice of Joseph Roth’s book Rebellion. Rebellion is not only the narrator of the story but also the source of the young woman’s curiosity. Her curiosity inspires her to embark on a journey to learn more about her Jewish identity and family history. Throughout the book she meets new people, finds her identity, and ultimately answers her questions about the past.
In most cases, when readers finish a book, they must resort to online forums or their own imagination to answer any burning questions they might have. Luckily, after reading The Pages by Hugo Hamilton, we were not left to our own devices to get answers. Being able to talk with Hamilton was an amazing opportunity that provided insight and clarity about the book. After reading The Pages, there were a couple different questions I had such as why Hamilton chose to write the book in English and why he decided to have a book narrate the story.
To understand The Pages more deeply, it is important to understand Mr. Hamilton’s background. He grew up in Dublin, Ireland with his German mother and Irish father. In our class, we have explored quite extensively the role and impact language has on storytelling. Language is not only the words that are being spoken but also the history of those words in context of the culture they are used in. As a child, Hamilton spoke both German and Gaelic but was forbidden to speak English at home. Because he was not allowed to speak English, described as the “language of the street,” Hamilton says he felt a “kind of homelessness in [his] experience as a child. [He] felt as if [he] was migrating every time [he] walked out onto the street.” Because English was forbidden in his household, Hamilton gravitated to it and longed to conquer it. English was the language that connected Hamilton to the world and writing in English, in contrast to German or Gaelic, gave him a sense of freedom and belonging on “the streets” where English was so prevalent. Understanding Hamilton’s choice of language helps us to understand more about his family history and culture.
Books are powerful tools. They can inspire, encourage, and teach their readers. To keep “Anti-German” literature from inspiring people, the Nazi regime had ritual book burnings in which thousands of Jewish books were burned. On the very first page of The Pages, we are introduced to the narrator, a book who has been saved from the book burning of May 1933. When I realized that Hamilton used a book as the narrator, I was curious to why he made that stylistic choice. Hamilton explained that he chose The Rebellion by Joseph Roth to narrate this story because it was the book that one of his relatives saved from being destroyed. Many years later, as Hamilton got to hold the book in his hands, he was curious about where the book had been and what it had seen. These questions inspired him to let The Rebellion guide him. He stepped back as the author and allowed the voice of The Rebellion to take center stage. By using an inanimate object as the narrator, Hamilton hopes that his readers will feel a sense of helplessness. Hamilton admits that “a book cannot actually do anything. They cannot stop somebody from saying something or affecting people’s actions.” I admit, the narrator’s lack of ability to act or change the story’s course made me frustrated. The frustration and helplessness that I felt parallels the helplessness the characters felt as they were searching for their identities and places in the world. Hamilton appointed The Rebellion as the narrator to creatively connect his readers to the characters in the story.