Erna Paris addresses only one question in her book "Long Shadows Truth, Lies, and History:" Who owns and controls the past? In the process, we are asked how we should separate ideas such as history and memory, or even whether this separation is possible. Paris also makes us think about how easily history and memory can change because of interpretations of the present.
Starting with the aftermath of WWII in Germany, France and Japan, Paris goes on to reflect upon the legacy of slavery in the American South and then to South Africa, Bosnia, Rwanda, Argentina and Chile as she surveys two competing inclinations: The potentially corrupting desire to control the past in order to shape the future, and the aspiration to achieve a standard of universal justice. In most cases, we are reminded that neither inclination can win out for long, as long as living memory can be invoked.
Paris is an excellent writer. As the reader goes through the book, which is actually an intelligent persons travelogue of sorts, a bond with the author develops. Paris engages in a conversation with each reader as she discusses the uses and abuses of memory. She does not lecture she provokes. She does not have answers, but demands that the reader reflect on some very tough questions about moral responsibility.
This book is also of interest for those who would like to better understand the role of the Soviet past in Russias present. Paris does not discuss the ownership and control of Russias history, but it would be an interesting question to raise. Anyone reading this book is given a generous head start to ponder both. Hopefully, Paris has already set her sights on this country to help us along.
For Moscow-based readers, "Long Shadows" is at Anglia British Book Store for 600 rubles.