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FRANCI'S WAR

A WOMAN'S STORY OF SURVIVAL

Further useful testimony from an unspeakably terrifying era.

A Holocaust memoir by a secular Czechoslovakian Jew who was 22 when she was rounded up with her family to be deported to Terezín in 1942—only the first step of her wartime misery.

Epstein (1920-1989) wrote this brief, striking memoir in the mid-1970s, largely for the benefit of her children. Her daughter, Helen Epstein (The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma, 2017, etc.), a writer who struggled her entire life to grasp her mother’s awful wartime experiences and her own trauma as the child of Holocaust survivors, could not face returning to it until recently. Here, she does a fine job of clarifying some of the detail and characters. A youthful zest for life comes through despite “Franci’s” many travails. She demonstrates a fierce determination to adapt and prevail amid the harshest conditions. First, she watched as her parents, middle-class members of the German-speaking community in Prague, were brutally separated from her at Terezín to be sent to the Nazi death camps. Life in the barracks of Terezín was fraught but bearable, and Franci keenly observes the hierarchy of survival, where the well-connected enjoyed benefits not available to all, and “a whole new standard of behavior evolved, much of it self-sacrificing and noble, but also frequently selfish and amoral.” Married hastily to a young man from home who was able to help them survive by his canny trading instincts, until he was caught and disappeared, Franci was herded into the cattle cars for transport to Auschwitz in May 1944. There, her cousin made her aware of what was burning in the chimneys; she “became conscious of a peculiar odor in the air, like burning hair or bones.” From then on, the author refers to herself by her camp tattoo number, A-4116, and she chronicles how she endured the brutal conditions and disease at several women’s camps by using her sewing and electrical skills.

Further useful testimony from an unspeakably terrifying era.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-14-313557-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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