My first thought about the book was that it was an incredible piece of research about a time I thought I knew everything about, and of which the author proved I had a lot left to learn.
I listened to an audio version of the book; I would not recommend it at all. It would be far better to read this book, to absorb the information and connect with the characters, without the over emotional presentation of the author, who was too close to the story to have hired herself as the reader. She should have had an independent reader who knew how to give life to the words with the tone, expression and timbre of voice, necessary to give life to this important story. In addition, the author’s voice was a hypnotic, monotonous drone which tended to make me sleepy and lose interest in what was otherwise, an exceptionally moving story of suffering and courage, in the face of circumstances most people could not even imagine.
Because her voice was not sufficiently expressive, when new characters were introduced or reintroduced, they were often not quite as memorable as they could have been. The book is long and her reading of it made it tedious at times and difficult to hold the thread. However, her diction was perfect and her use of language and choice of vocabulary was superb, so that when fully engaged, the reader was thoroughly involved with the narrative.
Told from the vantage point of a family that was not interned in a camp, but suffered mightily simply trying to escape from the Nazis and the hardships inflicted upon them, in every country to which they fled, it opens another window on the atrocities committed by a nation and a citizenry, intent on the destruction of those they blamed for their own failures, those who were, essentially blameless. In this book, the focus is specifically on the Jews.
As well as a memoir about the author’s mother, it is also a love story about a young couple, still in their teens, who finding kismet, a magic feeling of love, were then robbed of it by a megalomaniac, who was followed blindly and loyally, by the masses. However, their love lived on, decade after decade, through their marriages and love affairs, which were largely unrequited and unfulfilled.
Tracing and following in the footsteps of her family, relatives and friends, through the travails they suffered, from Europe to Cuba, to the US and places in between, the author leads us on their arduous journey and fills in many details about their travels and encounters that were not expressed as well in other accounts that I have read. This is a thoroughly researched manuscript which traces their lives during this blighted period of history. Although at times they seemed to recover from their misfortunes rather well, and then proceed to live better than one would have expected, their main existence was that of hunted, stateless animals for which no amount of seeming normalcy could cover up.
Because the author makes excellent use of detail and descriptions of the times and the exigencies faced by the families, situation by situation, it is one of the most informative, provocative representations of the years preceding the war, in the early thirties, right up to and through it, until it ends and beyond. The author has captured the emotional temperature of the times including the individual instances and moments of terror and panic experienced by those being ostracized and abused by The Third Reich, those essentially trapped in a prison from which they could not escape and could find no succor from outside sources, those being sought like beasts simply because they were Jews, and this horror was witnessed by others, turning a blind eye, as their neighbors were led away. And, worst, for the most part, their plight was ignored by the world, even by a President, FDR, whom the Jews in America worshiped and respected, without realizing how he had betrayed their brethren.
What gifts did that evil incarnate Hitler, possess to impress so many with his demonic, malevolent designs and beliefs? Whatever it was, we should all pray that no one with that disturbed a vision, ever attains popularity again.