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“Can the living ever speak for the dead”: The White Hotel and Fictionalizing the Holocaust

This article explores the possibility of representing collective violence such as the Holocaust within the context of D. M. Thomas’s novel The White Hotel (1981). It argues that The White Hotel lays bare the complicated relationship both between history and fiction and the burden of traumatic representation. By giving us a fictionalized story of a Holocaust victim, Thomas, offers the immediacy of the personal experiences one sees in eyewitness accounts; but, at the same time, by resisting a realist mode of narrative, the novel offers the possibility of remaining faithful to the resistance of collective trauma to representation. Ultimately, The White Hotel urges the reader to ask some fundamental ethical, narratological, and political questions about the representation of collective trauma. By representing the Holocaust in fiction, D.M. Thomas challenges the wildly-held belief both in Holocaust survivors and the intellectuals studying the Holocaust that Holocaust is considered beyond representability.