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.

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. 

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Growing up in the 90s was hard enough but imagine coming of age in a new country that you didn’t want to move to in the first place, with a language you don’t understand…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 228 pages.
Read on January 21, 2021.

Recommended by a friend, this was a comforting read to have amidst another wave of COVID.

Robin Ha was born in Seoul, South Korea as an only child. While her father was briefly in the picture for part of her early childhood, Robin’s mother soon finds herself as a single parent, which, with the conservative views of 1990s Korea, didn’t bode well for either of them. Almost America Girl is a memoir that begins with Robin’s early life in Korea, the difficulties socially and financially that she and her mother faced. Then when Robin’s mother remarries they take a vacation trip to the United States to visit her new extended family, however, this trip abruptly becomes permanent. Robin feels immensely betrayed by her mother with this sudden and intrusive change of home that she had no say in. She is cut off from her former home and is not even able to get to say goodbye to her friends. Barely knowing a word of English, Robin details the struggles and triumphs she experienced as a youth in a new country, with a new language, a new family, and the reflection and rebuilding of relationships and trust that comes with time.

Robin’s artwork is clean, visually appealing, and easy to read while also capturing the moods and feelings of each scene and emotion the author was looking to create. The audacity of the move that Robin had to live with is one that is hard to sit with. While her mother did what she had to for her daughter, I can’t fathom how difficult it must have been to have your whole life turned upside down in that way. One of the redeeming factors of this story is that her mother does enrol her in a drawing class and it is the first place she finds some belonging in her new surroundings which ultimately leads to Robin’s art career and creation of this book. Robin is also able to reflect on the differences between the two cultures she grew up in as she revisits Korea as a young adult.

While Robin’s story of change is not unique in that many people are forced to sometimes make dramatic moves and face similar issues of culture and language, Robin’s story details the difficulties of such an isolating experience for those that have never had to face such an ordeal, and places the reader within her shoes, highlighting why stories like Robin’s need to be told. It also highlights the resilience that it creates in overcoming such challenges.

I would highly recommend this book to teens, anyone struggling with feeling different, or for any graphic novelist enthusiast. Further, I feel that this book would be a perfect read to have within a high school curriculum as it helps to build empathy and understanding for anyone that has ever been perceived as different.