Sunday, August 9, 2015

Monthly Reread - The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank

I think I have mentioned on this blog several times that this is one of my favorite books. I first read it when I was about 8 or so, younger than Anne was when she started her diary, and it had a profound effect on me. I couldn't believe that this young girl was murdered because of religion and politics. Anne's words made me laugh and cry and she became like a friend to me. I reread this book countless times during my childhood/teenage years, and I tried my best to do research and find out more about Anne, which was not so easy back in the days of library card catalogs and no Internet.

I still have my original copy of this book, as well as 2 other paperback editions (one belonged to a relative who passed away at a young age, so it's a remembrance of her, and her copy also had an insert with more information, which my original copy lacked; the third I picked up on a whim at some used book sale because this copy's insert was different still). Of course I also have many other books, both about Anne and her family and about the Holocaust in general; many were gifts over the years. I also have the Definitive edition of the diary, and the re-release which contains material that was initially omitted from the published diary - in some cases for good reason, but that's another rant.

During my first visit to France, I was lucky enough to stay with a French family, and I noticed a paperback "Livre de Poche" French edition of Anne's diary on their bookshelves. I told them it was one of my favorite books and they insisted that I should have this copy. I politely refused because I didn't want to take something of theirs like that, but they insisted, and I was really grateful. Now I had one of my favorite books in one of my favorite languages. My doubts about my own abilities kept me from reading this version until now, as you'll see in the French language review I will post shortly, but now I have managed to read this, as well as to reread this classic favorite, from which I've been away too long.

What can I say - it's an interesting experience to return to an old favorite after a long time. In some ways I know this book so well it's like I've memorized portions of it; to be honest, this made it easier to read the French version too. When I first read it, I was of course approaching it as a child, with a child's limited experience of the world. I could very much identify with Anne and her hopes and dreams, her issues with her mother, her romance with Peter, etc. Now as an adult, I bring the perspective of someone much closer in age to her parents, and it's hard not to want to hear the adults' perspectives as well. I also wish that Margot's diary could have been saved; it would be really fascinating to read her thoughts. And I have had the opportunity to visit the actual Achterhuis/Secret Annexe, and read a lot about Anne, her family and friends, and the Holocaust in general. But all in all this book has stood the test of time for me, and it brings me back to my old friend.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story - Ann Kirschner

This book shed light on an aspect of the Holocaust that I don't remember reading much about - the Nazi work camps. These camps were really meant to be work camps, and were not set up for the assembly line murder of thousands of people at a time, but were meant to be a source of income for the Nazi empire, as the inmates performed what amounted to slave labor. People did in fact die, and get shipped to death camps, and the conditions were not good by any means, but there was no apparatus for extermination like there was in other camps. 

The author's mother spent five years in seven work camps, and managed to save letters and other personal papers and artifacts at great personal risk. She survived the war and only came forward with this treasure trove of documentation after a health scare, when she gave them to her daughter (the author) and opened up about her experiences. 

The letters and the book that presents them perfectly displays the human side of the Holocaust, showing people's emotions at having a loved one be imprisoned, and be cut off from family and loved ones. It's an important story, and an often overlooked aspect of the Nazi machine. Recommended.

Friday, July 31, 2015

July - This Month in Reading

For a combination of reasons, the main one being a very sad event, July was not a very productive reading month for me, with only 3 books read. I am still working on the foreign language books, however, and although I am still struggling a bit emotionally I do hope to have more entries in August.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife - Francine Prose

This book focuses on Anne's diary itself, and more specifically, how the diary came to become a bestselling classic. I had already read about this topic here and there in my reading, but I had no idea about the controversy surrounding the creation of the stage play based on the diary - that was all news to me, and it's a very strange and absorbing story. The author also talks about Anne as a writer, and about how her writing shows real development and talent during the time she kept her diary. I knew that Anne had made revisions to her own diary, with an eye toward possible publication after the war, but it was interesting to hear another writer talk about Anne's skill in doing so; how she handled characterization and details and showed talent.

One quibble - the author kept referring to the hiding place as "an attic." I realize that a lot of people use this term to describe the Achterhuis/Secret Annexe, but I'm a stickler for accuracy and it's simply not accurate. I wish she hadn't propagated the use of "attic" in this book.

All in all this is an interesting read and I enjoyed it.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Inside Anne Frank's House: An Illustrated Journey Through Anne's World

This large-format coffee-table type book briefly takes the reader through Anne's background and the time before her family went into hiding, and then provides a wealth of information and photographs of the hiding place itself, as well as photos of the people who hid in the Achterhuis/Secret Annexe. It also provides information and photos pertaining to what happened to the Franks, van Pelses (van Daans), and Dr. Pfeffer (Dr. Dussel) after the arrest, and their ultimate fates. It also has lots of photos of Anne's actual diary and of some of her other writings, such as the stories she also wrote, and gives information about how the diary came to be published, etc.

I can't remember how I came to own this book, and it's strange that I don't remember ever sitting down to actually read through the text and really peruse the photos before now. It's a beautiful accompaniment to reading the diary, and would add a lot of detail for anyone who has an interest in Anne or even the Holocaust generally. Highly recommended.

One note: I wasn't able to discover a specific author's name for this book, but the introduction was written by the Executive Director of the Anne Frank House, Hans Westra, and I believe this book was put together by people working for the House, if not for the Anne Frank Foundation.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Monthly Reread - Anne Frank Remembered - Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold

This book was written by one of the brave people who helped hide the Frank family and the other 4 people who hid with them, as evidenced in the subtitle, "The Story of the Woman Who Helped Hide the Frank Family." This book lends an interesting perspective to the story for those who have read Anne's diary, as it tells the same story but from a different perspective. I liked learning more about Miep, and about her life before World War II, and how she met her husband Jan (called "Henk" in the original diary translations), how she came to work for Otto Frank, and etc. It was also fascinating to hear about what her life was like during the war - how much work actually went into  supporting the 8 people in hiding - making sure they had enough to eat, keeping them safe, trying to keep their spirits up. This book also illustrates just how awful the last year of the war was for everyone in Holland, especially the "hongerwinter" (the "hunger winter") when food was so scarce that many people literally starved to death before the Allies were able to liberate them. 

Miep Gies is someone I really admire. She embodies many of the qualities I value in a person, such as courage, perseverance, self-reliance, intelligence, and the ability to problem solve and think on her feet, etc. I wish I could be even half the person she was in her lifetime. 

This book is an excellent accompaniment to Anne's diary, as supplemental reading. Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June - This Month in Reading

With only 4 books completed in June, I had a slower reading month than I might have liked; however, this doesn't account for the fact that I'm reading a bunch of other books, including 2 in foreign (to me) languages, which is slower going than reading in English for me. I had originally planned to have my reading theme for June only, but I obviously overestimated my ability to read as much as I might have liked in a single month, so I am going to extend my theme to the entire summer (i.e., through the end of August). As you all know, I hate summer, so this will be something pleasant to focus on while I eagerly await the beginning of Fall (i.e., Sept. 1 as far as I am concerned).

For next month, I would like to have finished at least one of the foreign language books, as well as some other theme-related books.

How's your summer reading going?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

June Reread - Anne Frank: A Portrait in Courage - Ernst Schnabel

Information was much harder to come by in general when I was a kid. Unlike today, when one can generally find out lots of information about most subjects after a few seconds of Googling, when I had devoured Anne's diary and wanted to learn more, I had to do lots of hands-on research to discover more background information. I enjoy research, but it was a bit more tedious and haphazard back then, and I discovered this little paperback, which had to be specially ordered from the bookstore for me, while performing such hit-or-miss research.

This book was originally published in Germany in 1958 and it was a wonderful find. It fills in a lot of information about Anne and her family and friends, and the brave people who helped them hide, including many first-person interviews that were very contemporary with the events of the war. One of the best parts for me was the inclusion of some of Anne's other writing - in addition to keeping her diary, she also wrote short stories and was working on a novel, and it was really gratifying for me to read these writings for the first time. Recommended.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Auschwitz - Laurence Rees

This book has been languishing on my TBR pile for ages, and as with so many of these books, I have no idea why that might have been. It takes the reader through the history of the collection of camps known as Auschwitz, as well as providing background information on the "final solution" and how that impacted the camps. The book is very thorough and well done, and provides details such as how the selection process was designed to reduce anxiety for the prisoners, and thereby make it easier for the perpetrators. If you have any interest in this subject, this is an amazing history and should really be required reading to possibly deter any kind of reoccurrence. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hidden Child of the Holocaust - Stacy Cretzmeyer

This is the true story of Ruth Kapp Hartz, a French woman who survived World War II despite being part of a Jewish family trapped in Vichy France. The writing is very immediate, and you can really get inside the head of a very young girl, and understand the confusion and fear of this time. This edition is evidently a Scholastic books offering, and I would have loved it when I was in school. Apparently it's actually something of an excerpt of a longer book by the same author; I'd like to track down a copy of that and read it too. The only "critique" I can offer is that I would have loved to see some photographs, but this isn't a real issue. Another good book, particularly for young people to learn about the Holocaust.