Of the multitudinous characters who populate the seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, all indelibly depicted, none is more elusive in the end than the one we know the most about, whether we think of him as Proust himself or “the Narrator.” There is an “uncertainty” seemingly built into the narrative structure of the novel, the first and most significant of several that the acclaimed Israeli historian of the Holocaust Saul Friedländer explores in this brilliant extended essay on Proust and his masterpiece. I call it an essay—as does the author—because, though richly documented, it maintains a genial, pleasingly conversational tone throughout; for all its scholarship this is not an academic treatise but a deeply personal meditation on Proust and his great work. Friedländer makes this unmistakably clear in his concluding...


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