Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’

Although marketed as a novel, this is really eight short stories most of which have two narrators, and all of which are linked by a writing desk. It spans decades and countries and is essentially about the secrets we hold within us, even from those closest to us, and how we often don’t know people half as much as we think we do.

Honestly, I wanted to like this so much, but I felt that I just did not end up getting it. A couple of the stores sort of held my interest, but I was bored by most of them and found them self-absorbed. It’s a shame because Nicole Krauss is obviously very capable of eloquent writing, but this felt repetitive – I get the point, there’s no need to keep repeating it – and most of the narrators had the same voice, with little to distinguish them as characters.

I need to get past the idea that once I start a book I have to finish it. Sometimes it’s okay to leave a book unread if you are not enjoying it, and I sort of wish I had with this one. I did enjoy the feeling of relief once I got to the end of it though.

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Sage Singer is a 25 year old baker, from New Hampshire, who wants to hide away from the world, because of the scars, both physical and psychological that she has, resulting from an accident three years earlier.  She is in a relationship with a married man, which is going nowhere, and does a job that allows her to work at night, without contact with others..  When she befriends 95 year old Josef Weber at her grief group, she is able to open up to him in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else, so when Josef tells her that he is a former Nazi, responsible for countless deaths, and requests that she helps him to die, her world is turned upside down.

(Don’t worry, all of the above happens very early in the book, so there are no spoilers here.)  I have always found Jodi Picoult’s novels to be compelling and thought-provoking, and this one was no exception.  It is stated early on that Sage’s grandmother Minka was a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, and a large part of the book is given over to her description of life during that time.  This may be a fictional story, but Picoult spoke with Holocaust survivors while researching this book, and while Minka may not really exist, the horrors described are all too real, and I was moved to tears while reading about them.

I liked and sympathised with Sage – she was a well rounded character, with flaws and insecurities that made her very believable.  The main theme of the book is forgiveness, and Sage’s dilemma in this regard was fascinating.  Her struggle to reconcile the elderly pillar of the community who she had become friends with, with the former war criminal who killed indiscriminately, was interesting and well described.  Can we ever forgive on behalf of someone else?  Does Sage have the right to forgive Josef’s sins – as he asks her to do – when it was not her who was personally sinned against?  All of this crops up throughout the book.

I also adored and admired Minka.  I would have liked to have seen more of Leo, the agent who has made a career out of tracking down war criminals and bringing them to justice – while he was immensely likeable, I didn’t feel that he was as well drawn as some of the others in the book.  This is only a slight niggle though, as for the most part, this book was truly hard to put down.

The ending was a surprise, and I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.  However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of what had gone before, and overall, even though it’s not my favourite by Jodi Picoult (that would probably be Nineteen Minutes) I would certainly recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Although officially classed as fiction, this book tells the very true story of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist, who during World War 2, saved the lives of some 1200 (officially, although the actual number may well be far higher) by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.  It is the basis of the 1993 film, Schindler’s List; having seen the film years ago, when I thought it was wonderful, I would like to see it again, as I believe that reading the book would make me appreciate it even more.

I honestly don’t think that any review I could write would do this book justice, but nonetheless, I’ll give it a go!  The book tells an incredible story of bravado, resilience and determination, under the most horrific circumstances.  Keneally is almost at pains to point out that Schindler was far from perfect.  He was a womaniser who seemed incapable of being faithful to his wife, he drank too much, and he was not above mixing with people who he didn’t like, simply because he could get something he wanted from them.  This latter skill of course came into play to magnificent effect during his mission to save lives, which actually makes it an asset.  And in fact, this just makes what he did, all the more heroic.  It would have been easy for such a man – who counted SS members amongst his ‘friends’ – to use the war to his own advantage, and to profit from cheap labour, but the fact that he chose to save lives, even when it meant endangerment to his own, and when it certainly would have been easier for him to ignore what was happening, just makes the story even more magnificent.  When someone is portrayed as a superhero, we expect them to do good things – that’s what their role is.  But Schindler was not an obvious candidate for heroism.  A hero is most certainly what he is though.

Initially, Schindler just wanted to make money, but as the war proceeded, he saw for himself the horrors being committed against Jews, Poles and Gypsies.  (The famous scene in the film where he sees a little girl dressed in red was actually based on a real event.)  Although the people he employed were officially prisoners, he was kind to them, and the arbitrary beatings and executions which occurred in other labour camps had no place at Schindler’s premises.  He also paid over the odds to ensure that his workers had adequate food and premises, even insisting that his workers were able to sleep on his site, rather than living in another camp and being marched to his premises by SS soldiers.  Although he was supposed to only employ people with the necessary skills for the work, he also took on people who had no such skills, because he knew that otherwise, they would be killed.

Towards the end of the story, when we come to the famous list of people who he moved to Brinnlitz, another supposed labour camp, he actually gives up all pretence at being in the business for money, deliberately turning out substandard artillery shells.  His brazenness was in fact almost his undoing.

The book gives details of individual cases and names specific people who Schindler helped, and pulls no punches in describing the sort of favours he did to ensure that he got what he wanted.  There is a LOT of information given, and admittedly I sometimes had to check back to remind myself who someone was.  However, all the information is essential to get the full picture.  Despite being written as a novel, I was concerned that the writing might be a little dry (it is after all a true story, and I sometimes find that non-fiction can be less readable than fiction).  In actual fact however, it was quite easy to read, and I found myself getting through huge chunks at a time.

If this review has not tempted you to read the book, that’s my fault.  Not only would I recommend this book, I would urge everyone to read it.  It moved me to tears on several occasions, and at other times I had to put it down simply to digest the horror of what I had read.  But it was totally, absolutely worth it.  Simply wonderful.

(For more information about this period of history, or to learn more about Oskar Schindler, please click here.)

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This is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl in Nazi Germany, who having watched her family disintegrate, is fostered by the kindly Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel sees the atrocities committed in wartime, and sees the best and worst that humankind has to offer.  Hans is the father who takes care of her and teaches her to read – a gift that will be her salvation and the comfort of others. Rosa is the coarse but warm hearted woman who fiercely protects her family. During Liesel’s story, we meet a whole cast of characters – Max Vandenburg, the Jew who is hiding from the Nazis and just hoping to survive the war; Rudy Steiner, Leisel’s neighbour and best friend; Frau Holtzaphel, the Hubermann’s next door neighbour; and Adolf Hitler, who while never actually appearing as a character in the book, certainly looms over the whole story.

The book is narrated by Death himself, who is a surprisingly thoughtful and compassionate storyteller.

To put it bluntly, this book is fantastic.  It is apparently aimed at young adults, but I think this is a book that adults of any age would and should get a lot out of reading. The story completely immersed me in wartime Germany and in particular, Lieisel’s world.  The characterisation by Markus Zusak is terrific. Although there is a fairly large cast of characters, each and every one is beautifully drawn, and I felt as if I knew them personally.  They were utterly believable, and I cared about all of them.

The book held my attention through every page – I never once felt bored. Death is an interesting, sometimes even amusing, and always thoughtful narrator – he reveals snippets of what happens to certain characters before the events actually occur, but despite this, when such things do actually happen, the impact is not lessened in the slightest.

As the vast majority of characters are German, the reader sees the war through the eyes of German citizens, and shows them as individuals rather than the collective nation which wartime Germany is often viewed as.

To sum up – occasionally, I come across a book which I want to tell all of my friends about.  I feel as though I want everyone I know to read it.  This is just such a book. Very highly recommended indeed.

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I quite enjoyed this book, but I did not feel that it was worth all the hype surrounding it.

The book, which is set during World War II, tells the story of Bruno, a 9 year old German boy, who is dismayed when he has to leave his home in Berlin to move to ‘Out-With’, where his father has been given a job by the ‘Fury’.

Bruno does not understand why there is a huge fence at Out-With, behind which 100s of people in striped pyjamas live, who he is not allowed to associate with.

However, Bruno makes a friend, Shmuel, who lives behind the fence – a friendship which surely can only end in disaster.

The book is told from the point of view of Bruno, so it is easy for adults to see past his naive views of the world, and sense impending doom, where Bruno is unable to see it.

One thing that did bother me about the writing was that Bruno’s mis-understanding and mis-pronouncing of words such as Out-With and the Fury, would not actually in the language in which Bruno would be speaking, i.e., German; they work in English only, and I couldn’t help thinking of this as I read the book. Also, there were a few glaring historical inaccuracies; I have heard someone defend the book in this regard by saying it’s a fable, and not necessarily supposed to be historically accurate – however, I think calling it a fable is just a way for the author to get around the inaccuracies.

I did not feel that we really got to explore the characters well, although Bruno’s mother intrigued me.  The writing did however flow easily and it was a quick and easy read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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