Day 11 – A book that made me cry

  It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…

I have a confession to make: I cry at adverts (I’m talking about ones that are about animal rescue or child abuse, not shake ‘n vac or oven chips!). It’s harder to make me cry at a book, however, but when one does make me cry it’s because the author has made me care. There are a few books that have made me wipe a tear from the corner of my eye, but only the odd one that has made me openly weep. One that almost made this post was My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I remember reading this on a sunlounger at a villa we stayed at in Gozo (an island belonging to Malta); this was the first Picoult I had read so I wasn’t familiar with her style of throwing a twist in at the end of the book at that time. What happened in the epilogue took me by such surprise that it completely threw me – I had come to care about the characters so much and I hadn’t seen the ending coming at all 😦

However, the book I have chosen is one that broke my heart when I read it. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is narrated by Death and follows a young girl in Germany in WW2 as she is sent to live with strangers: the characters in this book are genuinely endearing and when the ending hits you, it will hit you with the force of a freight train. I sobbed my heart out! We read this book for my book group years ago and every single person (bar one) loved it and most admitted to shedding a tear. I remember walking around in a daze for days afterwards as I tried to come to terms with the impact it had had on me. If you don’t so much as get a lump in your throat upon finishing this book, I’m afraid to say you just may have a heart of stone. Fact.

 

 

  Which books have had you weeping like a newborn?

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Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

In three words:

Round-up, Paris, WW2

 

What I thought:

Before reading this book I knew nothing (nor had I even heard of) The Round Up in France in 1942. On 16th July of that year, the French police dragged over 13,000 Jews from their beds and marched them to the Vel D’Hiv (a sports stadium) in Paris where they were crammed together and left with no food, water or toilet facilities for days on end. People fell ill and died in front of the families and thousands of strangers and were left humiliated at having to go to the toilet where they stood in the cramped conditions. Days later, these same Jews were marched (paraded down through the streets of Paris) on to holding camps before being separated into men, women and children (mothers torn from screaming, crying children) and taken on to the concentration camps in Germany and Poland. Now my little history lesson is over, what I loved most about this book was finding out about such a little know part of the holocaust – even more shocking because it was these families own countrymen who sent them to their deaths, not the Nazis.

Sarah’s Key is about a young girl of 10 years old who, on the morning she is awoken from her bed by the police to take her to the Vel D’Hiv, locks her 3 year old brother in a cupboard in the house, slipping the key deep into her pocket, and promises to come back for him when they are allowed to go free (which she suspects will only be a few hours). Interwoven between this little girls horrific story as the realisation hits her that she isn’t going home and that her brother is trapped alone in a black cupboard that he can’t get out of, and the story of Julia, an American woman who has lived in Paris with her French husband and daughter for the last twenty years. When Julia and her family move into a renovated house in Paris, she becomes aware of a Jewish family who once lived there and were taken during The Round Up in 1942 and she becomes obsessed with finding out more.

The author herself says that this isn’t intended to be a work of historical fiction, but a tribute to the children of vel D’Hiv, however it was the historical element that I found most compelling and what carried me through the pages. While this is undoubtebly a good book and one I looked forward to picking up, I did find the ‘modern day’ story a little contrived and even clichéd at the end (in fact, I’m pretty sure a groan escaped my lips).

Verdict: I would recommend this book as it is well worth reading about, but I have to say that had the story of the Round Up not been such fascinating (and shocking) reading for me, the book in terms of any literary merit was only pretty average.

  Have you read this book or seen the film? (I really want to see it)

  Which other books about the holocaust do you recommend?

 

Book Review: Far To Go by Alison Pick

In three words:

Moving, powerful, emotional

 

What I thought:

Once in a while a book comes along that unexpectidly blows you away. This is that book.

Far to Go is set in Czechoslovaki in 1938, just before the outbreak of WW2. Pavel and Anneliese Bauer live with their 5 year old son, Pepik, in a suburban appartment in the northern region of Sudetenland. They own a factory, they have money, enjoy nights in at the theatre and employ a live-in nanny, Marta, to look after their son. They have a life – a good one – that is until the Nazi occupation and annexation of their homeland.

What I found really worked with this book is that we were shown an ordinary family – secular Jews in fact – which I believe added to the confusion of why they were being persecuted; they were just like their friends, their neighbours, their colleagues; they celebrated Christmas, they didn’t follow the customs of the Jewish faith. The fact that they were secular Jews also allowed the author (and reader) to try to understand and question how the war would impact their lives – while Anneliese was eager to shed thier history, Pavel found himself becoming increasingly fervent and proud of his heritige. Another person struggling with her own questions and feelings was Marta the nanny who, despite not being Jewish herself, had to listen to gossip and speculation about the family she lived with and loved and even horrified herself by randomly thinking comments like “dirty Jew” in her head. Marta is really the central character in Far To Go and her actions and decisions have repercussions on the Bauer family that she would have never seen coming; but again we are left to question – what would we have done?

Far To Go deals with a period of history that I was not so familiar with: Czechoslovakia before the war. The characters we are walking hand in hand with through the pages have no idea what is coming:  they’ve never had cause to distrust or suspect their best friends before, they don’t understand why they have to give up their businesses and livelihoods, they don’t see  why they should have to leave their homes and they certainly have never heard of death camps before. This is all to come; this is the future and they are living in ignorance of what awaits them.

Once Pavel and Anneliese  have relented and moved to Prague (while they still can) they become increasingly aware that they have to send Pepik away on the Kindertransport to a family in the UK to look after him “just for a few weeks or months”.  The scenes on the platform are heartbreaking. The gentleness of the narritive and the lack of melodrama in Far To Go doesn’t mean that these aren’t some of the most emotionally powerful pages I have ever read. I don’t have children and yet to put myself squarely in the book with those parents at that moment just about broke my heart; it’s  almost beyond comprehension. I could see their little faces at the window, alone and not understanding why they were being sent away.

There is no room for flowery prose in this book; it’s sparse and no words are wasted. The empathy I felt for each person in this book, however, was so palpable I could almost taste it – it’s a gifted writer who can make a reader feel as they do here without relying on sensationalism and melodrama. You will question every one of the characters actions; you will ache for them, you will hope for them knowing that there is no hope, you will close the book and know that they were just a few people out of 6 million. Six million!

Verdict: Wow. Just wow. Highly, highly recommended.

(source: I received this book for review from Headline Review)