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Diary of the Fall

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Written by Michel LaubAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michel Laub
Translated by Margaret Jull CostaAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Margaret Jull Costa


List Price: $12.99


On Sale: August 26, 2014
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-1-59051-652-2
Published by : Other Press Other Press
Diary of the Fall Cover

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From one of Granta’s Best Young Brazilian Novelists, a literary masterpiece that will break your heart

At the narrator’s elite Jewish school in a posh suburb of Porte Alegre, a cruel prank leaves the only Catholic student there terribly injured. Years later, he relives the episode as he examines the mistakes of his past and struggles for forgiveness. His father, who has Alzheimer’s, obsessively records every memory that comes to mind, and his grandfather, who survived Auschwitz, fills notebook after notebook with the false memories of someone desperate to forget.

This powerful novel centered on guilt and the complicated legacy of history asks provocative questions about what it means to be Jewish in the twenty-first century.


1. My grandfather didn’t like to talk about the past, which is not so very surprising given its nature: the fact that he was a Jew, had arrived in Brazil on one of those jam-packed ships, as one of the cattle for whom history appears to have ended when they were twenty, or thirty, or forty or whatever, and for whom all that’s left is a kind of memory that comes and goes and that can turn out to be an even worse prison than the one they were in.

2. In my grandfather’s notebooks, there is no mention of that journey at all. I don’t know where he boarded the ship, if he managed to get some sort of documentation before he left, if he had any money or at least an inkling of what awaited him in Brazil. I don’t know how long the crossing lasted, whether it was windy or calm, whether they were struck by a storm one night in the early hours, whether he even cared if the ship went down and he died in what would seem a highly ironic manner, in a dark whirlpool of ice and with no hope of being remembered by anyone except as a statistic—a fact that would sum up his entire biography, swallowing up any reference to the place where he had spent his childhood and the school where he studied and everything else that had happened in his life in the interval between being born and the day he had a number tattooed on his arm.


“Finally, a novel about the relationship between Judaism’s past and present that explores new territory instead of adding yet another set of tired footprints to overworked ground. Diary of the Fall is a refreshingly honest and startlingly original book.” —Myla Goldberg, bestselling author of Bee Season and The False Friend

"Margaret Jull Costa's achievement is nothing less than heroic." —The Wall Street Journal

"Finely wrought." —The Boston Globe

“As much a novella as a novel, and as much a meditation as a novella, Laub’s first book published in English probes the emotional and psychological legacy a Jewish son inherits from his father and grandfather." —Publishers Weekly

“A spare and meditative story that captures the long aftereffects of tragedy.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Brutal yet delicate…attempts to understand man’s basic identity, ‘part of a past that is likewise of no importance compared to what I am and will be.’” —Justin Alvarez, Paris Review blog

"[A] deeply satisfying novel...Michael Laub’s expansive story will haunt you long after you encounter the resolution." —CounterPunch

“[A] crisply taut novella.” —The Brooklyn Rail

"[F]ormally experimental but also emotionally moving." —Full Stop Magazine

“Michel Laub has constructed a painful, relentless and ultimately beautiful portrait of three generations, whose stories, told in parallel, culminate in the most innocent and surprising expression of love. A rewarding and excellent read.” —Martin Fletcher, author of Walking Israel, winner of the National Jewish Book Award

“Beautiful, profound, and masterfully structured….overflows with a lucid, sober, oddly uplifting wisdom. I was humbled by this book, amazed by Michel Laub’s ability to shuttle between three generations, to again and again confront the madness of his family’s unimaginable past in such a way as to recognize and respond to it in his own unruly present.” —Todd Hasak-Lowy, author of The Task of This Translator

"Michel Laub's Diary of the Fall (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) is a powerful exploration of memory and guilt, drawing connections between a disastrous high-school prank and the Holocaust." —The Guardian (UK)

“I have already found a contender for my book of 2014.” —Herald (UK)

“A gripping, thoughtful novel, fluidly translated…By focusing on an act of childhood brutality and its mundane consequences, Laub beautifully retrieves the tragedy of the holocaust from its scholarship, politics and deniers, cutting to the bone of human life, its longings and limitations.”—The Independent (UK)

"Laub makes an eloquent statement about the human condition, and how we can learn to live despite it." —Bookslut

"Laub’s is a fine, complex piece of writing that examines questions of guilt and responsibility for crimes large and small, and how, if possible, to atone for them." —New Statesman (UK)

“The remarkable quality of the book resides in its construction….Diary of the Fall’s long ribbons of prose create a work of immense incantatory power.” —Neel Mukherjee, Literary Review (UK)

“This riveting read challenges how we choose to tell others our life story and how events make us into the people we are.” —The Sun (UK)

“May well emerge as one of the finest novels published in English this year.” —Irish Times

“Powerful .” —Irish Examiner

“An absolutely impeccable writer.” —NoMínimo

“The best Brazilian writer of the new generation.” —Terra Magazine

“As with Milton Hatoum, in Michel Laub there is always...a subtle touch at the most dramatic moments.” —Estado de S. Paulo

“A courageous and staggering novel.” —NRC Handelsblad

“Even while reading it for the second time, the story held me captive.” —De Groene Amsterdammer

“[A] beautiful novel.” —Het Parool

Diary of the Fall is utterly convincing. It’s an original and thought-provoking exploration of the way history casts its ripples through generations.” —Bookmunch

“Laub’s prose is compelling, his ideas intelligent, and I devoured the book in a day. Let’s hope we see more of this fantastic Brazilian writer’s work in translation.” – Kate J. Wilson, One Day Perhaps You’ll Know Blog

“Beauty resides, almost discreetly, in the poetic plot [and] inviting, flowing prose ... Therein lies Laub’s art, a style that seems to touch things without leaving a mark, without oppressing or disfiguring what is written.” —Vox

"A powerful novel." —The Northern Echo

"A brutally honest reflection on the power that memory holds over us all." —The Literary Review

Reader's Guide|Teachers Guide

About the Book

1. What is the relationship between the prank the boys play on João and the cruelties the narrator’s grandfather faced in Nazi Germany? Are any similarities between João and the speaker’s grandfather?

2. Each of the three men in the novel—the narrator, his father, and his grandfather—record histories. What does this act accomplish for each of them? Are there any similarities in the way they record these histories? Are the histories they record accurate reflections of their realities? Does history hold any power over their lives? If so, how does it play out? What is the relationship between history and telling—or not telling—one’s own story; the relationship between memory, history, and storytelling?

3. How does the structure of the book—that of a diary—shape the narrative that is told?

4. The narrator often remarks, “I don’t know” (for example, pp 3, 23, 24, 63). Are there other phrases of uncertainty that he uses? How does this lack of knowledge or certainty relate to his grandfather’s memoir, his father’s illness, and the nature of memory in general? How does this relate to the guilt the narrator feels over the prank played on João and the initial distance he feels from his Jewish heritage?

5. Several sections of the novel begin with “A Few Things I Know About My Grandfather/Father/Self.” At the beginning of each of these respective sections, who does the narrator begin speaking of? Why do you think Michel Laub structured the novel in this way?

6. “There’s nothing more difficult when you’re thirteen than changing your label.” The narrator says this in reference to his cutting ties with his old friends. Could his grandfather’s insistence in never mentioning his experiences at Auschwitz also be described as an effort to change his “label”?

7. What is the significance of such a large portion of the story taking place when the narrator is thirteen?

8. Discuss the relationship between imagining and knowing in the novel. Keep in mind the uncertainty the narrator repeatedly expresses and the following passage from page 196: “…my grandfather’s memoir can be summed up in the phrase the world as it should be, which presupposes an opposite idea: the world as it really is.”

9. What is “the fall” that the title of the novel references? Does it manifest in more than one way? Does “the fall” seem to have the same effect on João that it has on the narrator? Is there more than one character who suffers through a “fall”?

10. What is the purpose of repetition in the novel? (See “hygiene,” pp 39, 111, 142; “Auschwitz,” pp 143, 150–151; “a repetition of what I did on his birthday,” p 176; “because that would be a reminder of what I was capable of doing to him over and over again,” p 177; “the nonviability of human experience at all times and in all places,” pp 205, 215, 217.)

11. On page 157 the narrator says, “because if Auschwitz had killed only one person on the grounds of ethnicity or religious belief, the mere existence of such a place would be just as appalling.” How does this relate to the prank that was played in João? What are the wider implications of the statement?

12. Do you think the novel says anything definitive about the nature of cruelty?

Teacher's Guide


Diary of the Fall
By Michel Laub
Book Summary
In a series of diary entries, the unnamed Jewish narrator details a cruel prank he participated in when he was younger that left the only Catholic student at his elite Jewish school terribly injured. He examines the episode from different angles and tries to understand it within the context of his family history: his father has Alzheimer’s and obsessively records every memory that comes to mind, and his grandfather was an Auschwitz survivor who wrote his own diary but never once mentioned his experiences during the Holocaust.
Personal reflection and heartfelt consideration of the place history holds in our lives lead to a poignant and hopeful resolution to one man’s struggles with what he inherits from his father and grandfather.
Contains mature content. You may want to preview before reading aloud.
Teaching the Book
How do you navigate the stories your family creates for itself? How do those stories interact with those we make for ourselves and with history? Diary of the Fall is a meditation on the intersection of family and history that provides students with the opportunity to analyze Jewish identity in the 21st century and the role of history in shaping personal narratives.
Theme Focus: Identity; History vs. Personal Life
Comprehension Focus: Narrative Structure
Language Focus: Evocative Adjectives
Get Ready to Read
Pre-reading Activities
Preview and Predict: Discuss with students the title and cover of the book. Consider these questions:
1. Do you think the book will have chapters, or will it be written like a personal diary, with dates for separate sections?
2. What does the man on the cover of the book make you think of?
Brainstorming: Have the students read the book jacket description. Ask the students what they know about the Holocaust. How do they know it—did they learn it from school or from family and friends? Ask the students to think about the difference between knowing about something from being taught about it and knowing about something from personal experience.
Explain to the students that the author uses adjectives that eloquently describe the ideas he explores. These adjectives help to pierce through the narrator’s confusion so the narrative can come to a conclusive understanding. The following list contains some of these words.
Ask students to write down what they think the following words mean as they come upon them. Afterwards, have them look up the words and write down their definitions. Have students compare their own definitions with the ones the dictionary provides and decide which one they think applies better and why.
1. condemnatory (p.13)
2. abstract (p. 13)
3. banal (p. 31)
4. inexplicable (p. 64)
5. vulnerable (p. 71)
6. profound (p. 103)
7. systematic (p. 120)
8. ethnic (p. 157)
9. symbolic (p. 201)
10. gratuitous (p. 224)
Using Vocabulary: Ask students to refer to the definitions they wrote for the above words to answer the following questions.
1. What abstract moral is the narrator referring to on page 13?
2. What about the narrator’s grandfather’s actions is inexplicable?
3. Who else, beside the narrator’s father on page 71, is shown to be vulnerable?
4. Do you think the novel’s structure is systematic in the way the narrator describes on page 120?
5. What is the difference between how the word gratuitous is used on page 186 and how it is used on page 224?
As You Read
Reading the Book:
Modeled Reading: Read aloud from the first few pages of the book. Ask students to consider the length and cadence of the sentences, and why the author chose to write in such a way. When they read on their own ask them to consider the difference in how they read the sentences.
Textual Analysis: Ask students to keep this question in mind as they read the book, and to point to sentences or passages from the book to support their answer: Do you think the novel says anything definitive about the nature of cruelty?
Reading Comprehension
Narrative Structure: Ask students to make a graph showing the grandfather’s actions, the father’s actions, and the narrator’s actions, and how the three are interrelated.  
After You Read
Comprehension Focus
On Narrative Structure: What is the purpose of repetition in the novel? (See “hygiene,” pp 39, 111, 142; “Auschwitz,” pp 143, 150–151; “a repetition of what I did on his birthday,” p 176; “because that would be a reminder of what I was capable of doing to him over and over again,” p 177; “the nonviability of human experience at all times and in all places,” pp 205, 215, 217.)
Theme Focus
On History vs Personal Life: What is “the fall” that the title of the novel references? Does it manifest in more than one way? Does “the fall” seem to have the same effect on João that it has on the narrator? Is there more than one character who suffers through a “fall”?
Language Focus
Have the students choose one of the evocative adjectives from the above list and use it tin a one-paragraph review of the book.
Content Area Connections
History: Have students research the history of the Jewish diaspora after WWII, with a focus on migration to South America.
Language Arts: Have students write a 500 word diary imitating Laub’s writing style.
Arts: Have students create a new cover for the book.
Extension Activities
Compare and Contrast: The novel is intertextual, in that it directly references other books that speak about the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors. Ask students to consider how the book compares to other books they’ve read about the Holocaust, and how Diary of the Fall has added to or changed their knowledge about it. Remind them about the pre-reading brainstorming activity they completed where they thought about what they knew about the Holocaust.
About the Author
Michel Laub was born in Porto Alegre and currently lives in São Paulo, Brazil. He is a writer, a journalist, and the author of five novels. Diary of the Fall is his first to be published in English, and has won the Brasilia Award and the Bravo!/Bradesco Prize. Laub was named one of Granta’s twenty Best Young Brazilian Novelists in 2012.
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