Adapted from Thomas Keneally's account of a Czech businessman and Nazi Party member who tried to make his fortune during the Second World War by exploiting cheap Jewish labour but ended up risking his life and becoming bankrupt in order to save more than a thousand Jewish Poles from the Holocaust.
Oskar Schindler arrives in Krakow (Poland) not long after Germany invades the country. The Nazis' relocation of Jewish citizens has already begun, but their ultimate objective is not yet fully understood by most civilians. Schindler acquires a factory for the production of army mess kits but, with no previous experience of running such an enterprise, he gains the support of Itzhak Stern, a functionary in the local Judenrat (Jewish council) who also has contacts with the underground Jewish business community in the ghetto. They lend him the money for the factory in return for a small share of its products, for trade on the black market. At Stern's suggestion, Schindler hires Jewish Polish workers instead of Catholic Polish workers because they cost nothing: Jewish workers receive nothing because their wages go to the Reich.
When Amon Göth arrives in Krakow to initiate construction of Paszów labour camp nearby, the SS clears Krakow Ghetto, sending in hundreds of troops to empty the cramped rooms and shoot anyone who protests or is uncooperative, elderly, or infirm. Schindler watches the massacre from the hills overlooking the area, and is profoundly affected. He is nevertheless careful to befriend Göth and, with Stern's advice, turns to bribing Göth and other key officials in order to continue enjoying the SS's support and protection. The commandant is a vicious and sadistic man who enjoys shooting Jewish people as target practice from the balcony of his villa overlooking the prison camp he commands.
Schindler gets Göth to agree to build a sub-camp at Paszów for Schindler's workers. The initial motive is to keep his workers safe from the depredations of the guards. When an order arrives from Berlin commanding Göth to exhume and destroy all bodies from the Krakow Ghetto massacre, dismantle Paszów, and ship the remaining Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz, Schindler prevails upon Göth to let him keep 'his' workers. With the Final Solution now fully underway in occupied Poland, Schindler and Stern assemble a list of workers that should keep them off the trains to Auschwitz.
'Internationally, Thomas Keneally is one of Australia’s most successful authors, whether in terms of critical reception, book sales, or author profile. He is probably best known as the author of Schindler’s List from 1982—Schindler’s Ark in Britain and Australasia—even if his fame in this regard has been somewhat obscured by Stephen Spielberg’s multi-Oscar-winning movie of 1993. The story of how Keneally came to write this book and its subsequent success is one of the more remarkable episodes in Australian book history, and of course it is by no means confined to Australia, its point of origin only in a very qualified sense. Published simultaneously in London, New York, and Sydney, Schindler’s List appeared in at least eight different English-language and fourteen foreign-language editions even before the release of Spielberg’s movie. It won the Booker Prize for 1982, the first by an Australian novelist, although Keneally had already been short-listed for the award on three occasions. Across the Atlantic, it was one of the New York Times ’ Best Books of 1982, and in the following year the winner of the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. The movie’s success meant new English and American editions together with a dozen or so translations in 1994 alone, including Turkish, Japanese, Chinese, and Catalan versions. New Czech and Marathi editions appeared as recently as 2009.' (Author's introduction)
In addressing the question of 'whether or not Australian literature is a world literature', Paul Sharrad looks at three scenes of reading: 'first, the public arena of the literary industry; second, the scenes of our own academic reading; third, the scenes that may result if we do move towards a world literature framework for reading Australian literature' (p.16). His discussion is illustrated with analysis of overseas reception of works by Thomas Keneally and a number of Aboriginal writers.
'This article is framed by a wider interest in how literary careers are made: what mechanisms other than the personal/biographical and the text-centred evaluations of scholars influence a writer's choices in presisting in building a succession of works that are both varied and yet form a consistently recognizable 'brand'.
Translation is one element in the wider network of 'machinery' that makes modern literary publishing. It is a marker of success that might well keep authors going despite lack of sales or negative reviews at home. Translation rights can provide useful supplementary funds to sustain a writer's output. Access to new markets overseas might also inspire interest in countries and topics other than their usual focus or the demands of the home market.
The Australian novelist and playwright Thomas Keneally achieved a critical regard for fictions of Australian history within a nationalist cultural resurgence, but to make a living as a writer he had to keep one eye on overseas markets as well. While his work on European topics has not always been celebrated at home, he has continued to write about them and to find readers in languages other than English.
Poland features in a number of Keneally books and is one of the leading sources of translation for his work. The article explores possible causes and effects around this fact, and surveys some reader responses from Poland. It notes the connections that Keneally's Catholic background and activist sympathies allow to modern Polish history and assesses the central place of his Booker-winning Schindler's Ark filmed as Schindler's List.' [Author's abstract]