The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

“Our painful experiences aren’t a liability—they’re a gift. They give us perspective and meaning, an opportunity to find our unique purpose and our strength.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from June 10, 2021 to June 21, 2021.

I have always enjoyed books about the holocaust or WWII, whether it’s a memoir, a historical fiction, or a piece of non-fiction, I never seem to tire of them. Even among holocaust memoirs, Dr. Eger’s story is unique.

Edith was a dancer and gymnast who was likely to compete in the upcoming Olympic gymnast when the Nazi’s came to Hungary. She was only sixteen years old when her whole world was torn apart. Having been separated from her parents, who were sent to the gas chamber at Auschwitz, Edith was fortunate enough to still be with her sister. Edith counted the few blessings she had in Auschwitz. At one point Mengele himself selects her to dance and rewards her with a loaf of bread that she shares with her Jewish companions. Nearing the end of the war, Edith and her sister were transferred to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen camps in Austria, of which they barely came out alive when the American troops started liberating the camps in 1945. However, Edith and her sister’s suffering is far from over. Edith now has the insurmountable task of coming to terms with her trauma, something that would take her decades to comprehend. Edith marries and starts a family and despite a business arrangement that would have her family move further into another war-stricken country, she makes the bold decision to take her family to America, a choice that puts tension between her and her husband. Edith and her family suffer greatly the first few years in America, from learning English to trying to make a living, and even as the years pass Edith refuses to talk about what happened to her. She blames her misery on her husband and eventually leaves him and begins to pursue her education in psychology. Her educational journey also makes her look at her own traumas and the traumas of others in a different light. She chose to use her suffering as a lesson, a gift, in which she can find value and joy in aspects of her life she never imagined. Lessons that she now passes on to the people she treats.

“Your pain matters and is worth healing, you can choose to be joyful and free.” 

What made Dr Eger’s story so unique is that she also includes stories of some of the people that she treated over the years that left an impression on her and how it intermingled with her own healing journey as well as her impressive ability to forgive and reap what life has given her despite the difficult hand she was dealt. Edith was also able to meet Viktor E. Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, which also played an important part in her journey. Edith is a solid storyteller and writer making it easy for readers to be drawn into her story. As a reader, you mourn with her as she comes to terms with the shattered hope she held onto while in the camp after her release, the mourning of her parents, her youth, and all her lost potential as an athlete and Olympian and how she ultimately addresses these emotions. Edith chooses to take what life has given her and turn it into a gift, to turn her suffering into joy and use what she knows to help others deal with their grief and trauma.

If you have not read this book and are interested in holocaust memoirs add this one to your list now. Not only is Edith’s story amazing and equally inspiring, but she also continues to try and improve other people’s lives with her work, TED talks, and continued community events with which she always ends by showing off her high-kick despite her being well into her 90s. The Choice is a true testament to the power of our minds and the strength of will our choices can have.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

“So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 285 pages.
Read from February 14, 2021 to February 20, 2021.

We all know just how hard nurses, doctors and, frontline staff work in hospitals but unless you work within the industry it’s difficult to fathom the intensity and challenges that come with the industry. Enter Adam Kay…

Adam Kay was once a junior doctor working for the NHS in the UK. During his residency and beyond, he kept a diary to maintain his sanity in which he detailed the nuances and extremes of working as a doctor. From the long working hours, lack of sleep and social life, to the nitty-gritty details of the labour ward, the lack of support from the government, and occasionally very obtrusive patients, Adam Kay spares his readers nothing.

“I’m as big a fan of recycling as the next man, but if you turn a used condom inside out and put it back on for round two, it’s probably not going to be that effective.”

However, after a traumatic experience nearing his final years before becoming a full-fledged doctor, Adam Kay stepped away from the profession for good. Thankfully, Adam is a decent writer with a sense of humour and has been able to make quite the career detailing his time as a doctor. I did wonder how he managed to get away publishing all of these details without getting sued but it wasn’t without ruffling a few feathers as Adam comes across as highly critical of the NHS system and doesn’t always paint others within the industry in a nice light. With his unique and very British sense of humour, Adam points out some of the most serious flaws within the NHS system, issues that also plague Canada’s healthcare, such as long wait times, long working hours with no pay raises for employees etc. Yet Adam’s story subtly rubbed me the wrong way and it was hard to put my finger on why. There was a tone of arrogance and cynicism with the way Adam approached this book, that while I enjoyed aspects of this book, and even laughed at certain situations, all I could think was that I was glad that this man wasn’t a doctor anymore. When I discussed this book with friends, most of them did not share the sentiments as me and enjoyed the book and its contents thoroughly and welcomed its honest and critical approach to medicine and the NHS. Perhaps Adam’s British humour missed its mark with me (despite me having married a Brit)?

Does this book shed light on the day-to-day life of medical workers and the issues faced under the NHS? Yes, absolutely and for that reason, it is worth reading. It is also highly entertaining and funny at times but it does make you wonder if ethically, this book and the approach that was taken, was the right thing to do.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“Nothing’s worse than saying goodbye. It’s a little like dying.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 341 pages.
Read from March 7, 2021 to March 8, 2021.

I can’t think of a more relevant book to read right now with the current news going on in the middle east…

Persepolis is separated into two parts, one covering the author’s childhood in Tehran and the second, covering her teen and young adult life in Vienna. Both stories are, at their root, a coming of age story and memoir amidst the turmoils of revolution and war. In the first part of the story, Marjane details her life from the ages of six to fourteen during the midst of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Like the black and white images, the story details a stark contrast between Marjane’s private life and the life she must lead in public while also offering a child’s perspective to the serious changes affecting the entire country. Revolution, murder, and war was the setting that marked Marjane’s childhood and while Marjane’s parents always encouraged her outspokenness and independence it came at a cost. The first part of the book concludes with the major decision to move Marjane to Vienna to live with an extended family member. 

Within the second book, Marjane adds the retrospect of her parent’s perspectives and their decision to send her away to Vienna as they feared for her safety if she stayed in Iran. This is where Marjane begins to come into her own as she tries desperately to fit into this new culture while recognising how different her upbringing and perspectives are to her new peers. She also has to learn to be abruptly independent as the family member she was placed to live with soon falls through. Marjane’s story details the awkwardness of growing up with both humour and, at times, surrealness as Marjane faces difficulties of which her peers have not. Persepolis is relatable yet at times an alien and horrifying story of youth, family, independence and connection. 

Marjane’s artwork and style perfectly capture the humour, isolation, longing, horror, and frustration of the experiences she and her family experienced, making for a powerful and visceral read. It’s more important than ever to read books like Marjane’s as the turmoil she and her family experienced is still far from over for many families and women currently living in Afghanistan and other countries living with religious extremism and war.

Persepolis is easily one of the best graphic novels I’ve read. I would strongly recommend adding this book to your repertoire if you haven’t already. Whether you love or hate graphic novels or memoirs, I guarantee that this book will speak to you in one form or another.