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.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

3/5 stars.
ebook, 154 pages.
Read from November 07 to 13, 2013.

“…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His observations as a scientist in combination with his experiences as a Holocaust victim allowed him to create a form of Psychotherapy called Logotherapy. Logotherapy was created with the Greek word “logos” which translates as “meaning” and is based off Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning”. This book was one of the first to define his new form of therapy which helped many Holocaust survivor’s get through their experiences.

This book is remarkable in so many ways and was unlike any Holocaust memoir that I’ve read. Viktor did not reiterate the horrors of the events he experienced but rather outlined what he did to get himself through it. Even more interestingly, was how academic the book was written. You don’t expect a memoir to be written in this manner but it was effective for what Viktor was trying to get across to his readers, which, in its simplest form, is about being able to choose a positive attitude, perspective and approach to your life and if you can find meaning within suffering. Or as Viktor quotes Nietzsche, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how‘”.  Viktor’s direct and brief writing style epitomizes his simple yet potent ideologies. However, if I had a criticism, I would say that his academic approach, while effective, I found that it takes way some of the emotional power of his story and his ideas a bit. With that also being said, his approach also meant that he was able to provide poignant advice without coming off like a self-help book.

Viktor’s story is inspirational and he truly makes us take a look at our own lives and what we have to grateful for and how we can use the power and reasoning of our minds to overcome any obstacle.  I would recommend this book to everyone as I believe that Viktor’s approach is effective and that we severely undermine the power of our own thoughts.