Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Secret Holocaust Diaries

Bannister, Nonna. 2009. The Secret Holocaust Diaries. Tyndale. 336 pages.

I've read a lot of Holocaust narratives in my life. Over a hundred at least. So take that into consideration, please. Why do I read books about the Holocaust? Both fiction and nonfiction? Because each voice is important. Each story matters. Different perspectives to be had by all. Different nationalities. (Polish. Russian. Austrian. German. Danish. Hungarian. Sometimes Jewish. Sometimes not.) Different ages. An account written by a witness who was eight years old will vary in many ways from a witness who was eighteen.) Different concentration camps. Different horrors. A person who survived the Holocaust by hiding versus a person who survived being a prisoner in two or three concentration camps. A diary written by someone who died versus a diary written by a survivor. There is more than one story to be told. In that regard, The Secret Holocaust Diaries is a welcome book. Always room for one more.

That being said, I found The Secret Holocaust Diaries to be an uneven book. On the one hand, I found the pacing to be odd. It shuffled back and forth in time. Sometimes it would spend a lot of time (several chapters at least) on events that weren't directly relevant. That's not quite fair. I suppose I should say that there is a "before" and a "during." Before the war. Before the Nazi threat. Before life changed. And a during. The during takes many forms. But it would be--according to my whim--events that took place when war was a very real possibility and the Nazis were either on their way or already there. It includes the time when our narrator, Nonna, and her mother were taken by Nazis to be laborers. The book spends a good portion of time on the before. In somewhat of an uneven way. Which in a way is completely believable. The book is a memoir. It's only natural that some events stand out more than others when it came time for her to write her life story. But, as a reader, I didn't necessarily find all these 'before' stories to be equally captivating. There were places, I felt, that dragged a bit.

On the other hand, I realize that these before sections are important for creating balance and providing context. The portions dealing directly with the war, with the Nazis, with her time as a laborer/prisoner were captivating. I wasn't bored. I wasn't disinterested. I thought it was a powerful story. And in many ways a healing one. I think the author used her diary or journal as a way to take care of her soul. It was a necessary part of her survival, of her mental health. The fact that she clung to these narratives her whole life. That she kept them in a pillow case and kept them close to her for decades says something about how much a part of her they were. The author did keep this portion of her life a secret from her family and friends for literally decades. These times were her burden to carry. These secrets weighed her down. The writing and sharing of these with her husband and children had to be cleansing there towards the end. So I can appreciate that.

The power and emotion of this particular story will vary for the reader. I think it depends on how familiar you are with the Holocaust in general. The less you've read, the less you know, the more powerful it will be. That's not to discount it for other readers. I think each story should be told. Should be shared. Should matter in the end. But I have connected with other narratives more. I've felt the power, witnessed the horror through other eyes. And those other accounts are more memorable than this one, in my humble opinion.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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