Phenomenal and haunting with a powerful message and a startling denouement.
This book left a strong impression on me, various images replaying in my mind afterwards.
In the narrative, Edith Eger, a clinical psychologist in her late eighties, relates her experiences of growing up in a Hungarian Jewish family in a region where Jewish people played an integral role in life but where latent anti-Semitism was rife, along with various other Hungarian-Czeck ethnic uncertainties.
A ballerina and gymnast, Edith arrives in Auschwitz at the age of sixteen with her parents and one of her sisters.
She witnesses countless horrors, but copes by adopting a strong positive outlook, part of which involves active fantasising about the life she left behind and how she will return to that life once the war is over.
Shortly before liberation, she becomes dangerously weak and ill and nearly dies but somehow survives.
Further danger awaits her, both in the days following her liberation and in the period afterwards when she is resettled in Eastern Europe with her husband and young daughter. She then has to make a choice that will see her lose the family fortune.
Later in life, and still traumatised by her experiences at Auschwitz, Edith reluctantly turns to the writings of Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who also survived the Holocaust.
She eventually meets Frankl, both by personal invitation, but also as part of her career as a clinical psychologist.
She begins to share many of his thoughts and observations with others in distress – most notably, that people have the choice to decide how they will respond to experiences, no matter how painful or debilitating.
More than thirty years after her liberations from Auschwitz, Edith returns there and discovers a startling, haunting and almost terrifying truth about what really happened the day she arrived at Auschwitz as a girl of sixteen.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, only to say that an unexpected reunion takes place in the months after her rescue from the camps. I think the book is beautifully written.
The photographs of Edith portray a woman full of joy and life, despite the experiences she went through, and her message is uncompromising, essentially, ‘you can’t stop trauma and loss, but you can chose how you respond, whether to be a survivor or a victim’.
Just a few of my thoughts.