Make it Concrete is the richly layered tale of a woman haunted by history, by turns horrific, tender and wry. It is beautifully told. I read it slowly to savor every scene. The tenderness of the telling, and the flashes of irrepressible playfulness, transform the tormented history wrestled with in the book into fertile background for deeply felt, living human drama. History should always be written this way, placed in moving, living context; sadly, it rarely is.
Sivan’s protagonist, Isabel Toledo, makes a living interviewing survivors of the Nazi holocaust and writing their stories for publication. She continually finds herself living horrific details of their ordeals. Her loved ones keep trying to convince her to give up ghostwriting, which is clearly taking its toll on Isabel. The ghosts — including those in her own immediate family — keep egging her on.
Sivan sure-handedly weaves vivid, concisely told vignettes of history into the narrative of Isabel’s life in present-day Israel. As someone also haunted by history, particularly family history (like Isabel’s) that is often zealously guarded, I related to the way history — and the quest to know exactly what happened and “make it concrete”– reverberate throughout this book. Readers with no particular interest in history will also find themselves pulled into the compelling story of Isabel’s struggle to reconcile her choices in life with the lessons of the past– especially the horrific lessons of one of history’s more notorious epochs of inhumanity. Make it Concrete is the story of the triumph of life, and love, over even the truly grotesque horrors of the past.
I give this book all the stars it is possible to give. I look forward to the next book from the thoughtful, talented Miryam Sivan.