Monday, June 23, 2008

Book Review: I Have Lived a Thousand Years

Livia Bitton-Jackson was once Elli Friedmann, a carefree 13-year-old who is just becoming interested in boys, who experiences typical relationship difficulties with her mother, who adores her father. But in March 0f 1944, she became one of millions of Holocaust victims, and this is her story of unbelievable survival in the worst of circumstances. From "Hey Jew Girl, Jew Girl" to "Can I Keep My Poems, Please" to Auschwitz to "Mommy, There's a Worm in Your Soup" to "It's an American Plane," the chapters are short, gripping, graphic, and heartbreaking.

I came away from this book astonished, once again, at the ability of someone to maintain faith, hope, and perseverance in the face of cruelty and suffering. In the ghetto, before concentration camps, Elli sees the good:
"For the first time in my life, I am happy to be a Jew. And I am happy to share this particular condition of Jewishness. The handsome boys, lively women, beautiful babies, gray-bearded old men—all in the same yard of oppression, together."
In other places, Elli thanks God for respite from tragedy: the ability to drink filthy water, her mother's healing, a breath of air. Truly remarkable.

This book listed for young adult readers, but adults should not pass this up. This book, Zusak's The Book Thief and Elie Wiesel's Night, make a powerful trilogy of Holocaust reading. Another Holocaust memoir I've read in the past year is The Nazi Officer's Wife, which tells the story of how the author became a "U-boat": an Austrian Jew who went underground and emerged in Munich as an Aryan. All of these memoirs are painful, heartwrenching reads, but I think they are essential. We cannot become complacent; we cannot relegate these events to history.

4 comments:

Heather J. said...

Thanks for the great review - here's yet ANOTHER book to add to my TBR list! :)

bethany said...

It does sound like a great one, thanks for the review! I own the other two books you recommended for he trilogy...maybe that means something!!! great review.

Peter said...

Thanks for this review, memoirs are definitely my fave type of reading. I'm just drawn in so much more knowing that real people went through these experiences.

In fact, I’ve just finished reading an incredibly powerful memoir by Susanna Barlow. The book is called "What Peace There May Be" and it relives the experiences she had as a child living in a polygamous household/sect. It’s a fantastically insightful look into a young girl's experiences, how she views those experiences and then learns to live with them. The viewpoint of a child breathes new life and a thoroughly unique perspective on the goings on behind locked doors. In light of recent events we’ve all seen on the news this is a compelling story that goes way beyond simply “lifting the lid” on life in a cult. Susanna takes a totally honest look at the challenges that she is faced with, not making them appear any better or worse than they really are. Yet she does so much more than simply record the events that happened to her and around her. Here she is torn between family loyalty and personal struggle. Despite the forces around her trying to mold her way of thinking and believing, she manages the level of self-control that allows her act on the challenges she is faced with, rather than simply react to them. Her choices in her life are at times creative, strong, thoughtful, occasionally humorous and frequently poignant. What I took away most from this book was the concept that we each can choose who we become, that we are in control. It’s a wonderful principle that we should all remind ourselves of daily. For anyone who knows that their current situation isn’t right but could use a little help finding a way out, this book is definitely for you.

I'd love to read your review of this book if you decide to read it.

Literary Feline said...

Great review! I recently received a copy of this from a fellow blogger and am looking forward to reading it. Stories like this always amaze me.