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.

My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively…

3/5 stars.
ARC, ebook, 208 pages.
Read from July 6, 2018 to July 12, 2018.

Expected publication: September 11, 2018

WWII and holocaust survivor stories are some of my favourite reading genres so when I saw this book on Netgalley with the absolutely raving reviews I knew I just had to read it.

Set in Kwasova, Ukraine during WWII, My Real Name is Hanna is a unique coming of age story.  With the rise of Nazi Germany, Hanna and her family don’t initially suspect that that anything will happen to them in their small town.  Hanna spends her time helping her neighbour dye decorative pysanky eggs and hanging out with her friend Leon.  However, the tides quickly change with the Nazis on their doorsteps and the carefree life and childhood that Hanna has known comes to an abrupt end.  Her family is desperate to stay together and do whatever it takes to keep it that way. A few kind friends and neighbours help Hanna and her family plot their escape into the forest when the Nazis come for them.  After their first safe place comes under threat, Hanna and her family are forced underground where they have to learn to live in a cramped cave in order to avoid the horrible Nazi forces.  Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively, is all that Hanna and her family have left.

Everyone seemed to love this book and while I didn’t dislike the novel I also don’t feel the need to rave about it either. I am struggling to find the words for my indifference to this story as the plot was exciting and definitely nerve-wracking at times.  The plot and layout of this story is its best feature but I felt a disconnect between some parts of the story and with the characters. For example, the book Hanna was given as a gift, which is the focal point of the first chapter, felt absolutely unnecessary in the rest of the book and really could have been edited out.  Based on the reviews I have read, it seems that the majority readers had a strong emotional connection to the characters but I, however, found it a bit lacking. The characters struggles, as awful as they were, did not seem like they were communicated as well as they could have been.  While one of the most touching scenes of the story entails Hanna and her friend Leon but at the same time, Leon also felt like an unnecessary character. If the story had focused on just Hanna and her immediate family members, the characters might have felt a bit more robust to me.

I can see why readers have compared this story to The Book Thief as this book has successfully discussed a difficult and tragic story but has also kept it attainable for youth readers.  However, in terms of potency and character development, The Book Thief is still the clear winner for me.

While I wasn’t as enthralled with this book as other readers the content of the story is good and many others swear by its moving story so I would still recommend this book for those interested in the WWII narrative and YA readers.

 

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

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3/5 stars.
ebook, 353 pages.
Read from April 04 to 14, 2013.

I read The Diary of a Young Girl, for the first time as an adult. Here is my throwback review:

Anne Frank happened to live in a devastating era. For 2 years, Anne and her family were hidden in away in a Secret Annexe in order to keep from being sent off  to concentration camps. Her diary is a depiction of this time. In so many ways, Anne is like a an ordinary teenager (though I don’t think teenagers these days write as well as her): Boys, struggles with her family, her self-image and explorations of her own sexuality, it just all happened to take place during the Holocaust. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to come of age during this time. I only wish that Anne had survived to further tell her story.

I’m thankful that I read this book as an adult because it allowed me to truly grasp how horrible Anne’s situation really was. If I read this as a teenager I might have connected and likely focused on her struggles with her parents and her craziness about boys rather than seeing the big picture of the scenario she had found herself in, as Anne often tried to focus on things that were not directly related to the sorrows of her family too much. In some ways, if taken out of context, the diary could just be that of a normal teenager to some extent. You almost forget to atrocities going on outside of Anne’s thoughts until she reminds the reader of her situation. Anne grows up so much through out the writing of this novel, in an almost tragic sense, and she realizes that. She comments on her nativity and realizes that she will never again be that innocent child. She even at one point finally acknowledges the cruelty she has displayed to her parents. I’m also glad I read the definitive edition and that the publisher added an introduction with an explanation of with how her father handled her diary as well as the tragic ending of most of the people in the Secret Annexe.

Speaking of the Secret Annexe, I can only  imagine the boredom! I felt claustrophobic just reading this diary! Not being able to go outside for almost 2 years?! Really, sit back and think about that for a second… They couldn’t go outside. No exercise. No sunshine or wind on their faces. They didn’t have a TV or anything like that. Just books and paper. I admire that Anne and many of the members were still committed to learning. It gave them hope that there was future and that they would continue on living. I also adore how headstrong Anne is. She always spoke her mind, voiced  her opinion and believed that women should be equal to men. A bold opinion in that day and age, especially for a teenager! I can imagine her, if she had lived, being a role-model and advocate to women’s rights and the survivors of the holocaust. I suppose her memory and the contribution of her diary does do this in so many ways. It’s just unfortunate that so many people like Anne were taken away from this world in such a cruel, unnecessary and horrific manner.

Another tragedy of this, is the extent that Anne distanced from her own family during this hard time. It sounds like each person in the Secret Annexe felt very alone. I suppose that it’s normal for a girl her age to want to distance herself but I can’t imagine how hard it was on her parents. The scene in which her mother is crying and sitting by her bed and says something about how Anne doesn’t love her broke my heart. Living in the Secret Annexe would have been inexorably hard; living in fear inside a cramped space without basic necessities sometimes and ultimately feeling alone and without comfort… it just makes me cringe. I also can’t imagine the inner turmoil they all must have felt too, as Anne describes at one point as well, about feeling miserable about their situation but knowing that they are still one of the lucky ones, as their friends and neighbours are killed and shipped off to concentration camps.

The people who assisted everyone in the Secret Annexe are remarkable human beings. The amount of times and the extent of how often they fell ill showed the extent of the massive amounts of stress that they dealt with trying to keep Anne and her family safe. Even at the risk of their own health and life, they still continued to protect the families in the Secret Annexe.

Overall, I’m thankful I found time to read this classic. It’s an important piece of literature that should never be forgotten.