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The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans by [Mark Jacobson]

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The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans Kindle Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 ratings

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Length: 370 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
Page Flip: Enabled Language: English

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“Antic, improbable and resonant … When you put it down, you look forward to picking it up again.” —Dwight Gardiner, The New York Times

This books is equal parts fascinating and unnerving. Mark Jacobson takes us on an eerie detective trail as he traces down the origins of a lampshade bought in New Orleans just after the hurricane. It's gripping and deeply philosophical.” --Walter Isaacson, author of American Sketches and Einstein

"Provocative....A well-executed, original reflection on how social evil tends to endure, puzzle and resist efforts at redemption." --Kirkus

"Fascinating and frequently unsettling....Journalist Jacobson avoids sensationalizing this inherently sensational story.... A chilling reminder that the aftereffects of World War II and the Holocaust continue to be felt, even in the most unlikely of ways." David Pitt, Booklist

“A disquieting yet utterly fascinating account, artfully told, studded with characters that would have been impossible to invent. Although you don't always know where Jacobson is taking you on this weird and wondrous ride, you’re never sorry that you climbed aboard." --Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air and Where Men Win Glory

“God only makes a few genius reporters, and even in that small company, Mark Jacobson is one of a kind. He can follow his nose so deep into a story that every page is a surprise. At the end of The Lampshade, there is a big surprise: all that weirdness has begun to make sense. Of course, by that time, your vision is broader; you’ve been seeing the world through his eyes.” --Richard Ben Cramer, author of What It Takes, and Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


I must say I didn’t put much stock in the possibility that a Dominican spiritualist working out of a basement in Union City, New Jersey, would have much to say about a human skin lampshade reputedly made in a Nazi concentration camp. But there I was sitting across from Doña Argentina, a large woman wearing a ceremonial headdress and smoking a pair of cigars, one on either side of her mouth. A friend of mine, a devotee, had recommended the medium, saying that if the lampshade had truly once been part of a person, “the spirit” would still be present. If so, then Doña Argentina would make contact with it, bring its secrets to light.

There was a bit of desperation in my visit, an anxiety that had been mounting since I had first come into possession of the lampshade, which a friend had purchased at a rummage sale in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Later, after DNA testing proved that the lampshade had been fashioned from the skin of a human being, I’d spent many, many months attempting to track down its true nature, its origin and meaning, a search that had taken me halfway around the world. So I was willing, if not too excited, to drive the ten miles from my Brooklyn home, through the Lincoln Tunnel, to Union City, where everyone speaks Spanish, to hear what the mystic had to say.

Doña Argentina, who said she had learned the ways of contacting the dead from her mother, whose portrait could be seen on the wall behind a six-foot-tall plaster of Paris likeness of the Virgin, began the session auspiciously. Taking the lampshade from its box, she took one look and said, “Oh, they kill him.” This was quite possibly accurate, considering there was every chance the shade had been constructed from the skin of one of the eleven million people, six million Jews among them, who had been killed by the Nazis during their twelve-year reign of terror. On the other hand, spiritualists had their tricks. They like to impress their needy supplicants. I did not know what my friend had told Doña Argentina about the lampshade before I’d arrived.

A few moments later, Doña Argentina placed a candle beside the lampshade, which was alarming. After making a number of trips to Buchenwald, the Nazi camp most associated with the lampshade story, and spending much time in New Orleans, where the object had been scavenged from an abandoned building wrecked in the catastrophic hurricane, I had no desire to see it incinerated in the basement of a Jersey spiritualist’s parlor. This seemed a real possibility as the candle flame grew higher.

Mira! The spirit is strong,” Doña Argentina said, taking a chug of rum. “It is speaking…” There was a pause now, as she stiffened in her velveteen chair. Her eyelids were fluttering. “He says… he says…”

I’d always assumed the skin of the lampshade came from a male, but this was the first time I’d heard it identified by the pronoun. Until this moment it had always been an it, a frightening, intentionally depersonalized it.

“He says… they are all bad to him. They hurt him. They cut him. Stab him with knives. They throw him in the closet. Lock him away. But you… you are different. You are kind to him. You give him attention.”

“Yes.” I was paying attention to the lampshade. For months I’d thought of little else.

The candle flame shot higher. Doña Argentina swigged more rum. The picture of her mother loomed above. “He says he feels safe with you. He wants to stay with you.”

“Stay with me?”

“He says he wants to stay with you always. He never wants to leave you.”

“You’re kidding.” Ever since the lampshade had arrived at my door as an unsolicited parcel of terror, I’d been trying to get rid of it. It was, I thought, like the black spot in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a dark circle inscribed on a page ripped from a purloined Bible, a floating accusation of ultimate guilt a pirate might find shoved in his breeches some bad night. The idea was to divest yourself of the spot before its curse took hold, to pass it to the next unsuspecting fool, if need be.

“He can’t stay with me. That’s crazy.”

Doña Argentina leveled her gaze at me. For the moment it seemed as if she’d separated herself from her trance and had returned to the temporal world. She lowered her voice, as if to keep her thoughts from the spirit.

“Por qué?” she asked. “Por qué he can’t stay with you?”

“Because… because it is a Nazi lampshade. It doesn’t belong to me. I can’t keep a Nazi lampshade.”

“You don’t want him? He is not a Nazi.”

“I know he’s not a Nazi. I know that.” Doña Argentina was recommending I keep the lampshade near me as much as possible, to keep it at my bedside. “I can’t have a Nazi lampshade in my house.”

“But this is what he wants. You cannot do it? You want me to tell him that he cannot stay with you. That you don’t want him.”

“It isn’t that I don’t want him. I just can’t… keep him.”

Suddenly this trip to Union City had become very complicated. I couldn’t become the permanent guardian of a human skin lampshade. It—or should I now be referring to the shade as he?—was a dead person. A murder victim, a former human being, not a curio, a grim collector’s item. I’d spoken to rabbis, to museum officials, professors, geneticists, policemen, politicians. Dozens of serious people had weighed in with opinions concerning the lampshade and what should be done with it. Now this spiritualist, this lottery number picker, was advocating this radical course of action.

“I will tell him,” Doña Argentina said, in the manner of a neutral messenger. The candle flame shot higher again. Doña Argentina stared into the fire. She let out a barking sound. If it was a performance, it was a good one. It was a while before she spoke again.

“He says there is nothing he can do. It is your choice. He says he leaves his fate to you… but it is good.”

“Good?” I replied meekly.

“It is good because he trusts you. You’re the only one he has now.”

© 2010 Mark Jacobson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • ASIN : B003L786QE
  • Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (14 September 2010)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 4108 KB
  • Text-to-Speech : Enabled
  • Screen Reader : Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
  • X-Ray : Not Enabled
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Print length : 370 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.3 out of 5 stars 26 ratings

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4.0 out of 5 stars A good trick
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story
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3.0 out of 5 stars Agnew's Lampshade
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3.0 out of 5 stars Jumps around alot
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