City of Women. David R. Gillham. Berkley Books, N.Y. , 2012.
Looking on the flip side of the coin is never easy. A thousand times, I have asked “What would I have done? “ Aware of all the times I have looked the other way, or at the very least, have failed to voice my thoughts when I knew they ran against the grain of popular opinion. And sometimes, that is all that is needed for matters to proceed “as usual.”
Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe. Edited and with an introduction by John-Paul Himka and Joanna Beata Michlic. U of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London, 2013. 778 pp.
At 778 pages, this is clearly a research volume and not the kind of book non-historians tend to read cover to cover. This said, it is definitely worth delving into, particularly for insight into the current state of Eastern European countries. For me, reading the chapter entitled “The Sheep of Lidice: The Holocaust and the Construction of Czech National History” was de rigeur and well worth the effort. It helped me to understand why I experienced museum exhibitions in Terezin as self-pitying and the Czechs I had occasion to meet as hostile. Numerous current and former citizens of Czechoslovakia have reminded me that my attitude as reflected in my book, but I have not had occasion to travel there since its publication. Furthermore, despite a shortage of books on the topic, no publisher from the land of my birth has reached out as did the Germans. This book, more than any other, has helped me to see the degree to which individual attitudes are shaped by governments and political forces.
A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City. A Diary. Anonymous. Translated by Philip Boehm, Holt and C., N.Y. 2005.
Why this book? Because more than anything I have recently read, this book is a reminder that every coin has its flip side, and that one purpose of literature is to teach us the importance of seeing things from a new perspective. Books that that fail to do so are, in my opinion, merely a string of pretty words or a source of momentary distraction.
The Memory Chalet Tony Judt. William Heinemann, London. 2010.
Rarely do such gems simply fall into your lap. Playful without being silly. The kind of book that leaves you smiling not merely at the end of each chapter, but often after a mere paragraph. Smiling because the words are so delightfully appropriate, so evocative , catapulting you not only into the author’s memories, but into your own. The details may differ, but the essence of memory lives, vivid, unforgotten and absolutely unforgettable.