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On Holocaust Memorial Day it is fitting to feature a memoir of someone who survived the atrocities and went on to make a life for themselves, and so, today I am honoured to share a review of Remembering Ravensbrück: From Holocaust to Healing by Natalie B. Hess.

  • Title: Remembering Ravensbrück: From Holocaust to Healing
  • Author: Natalie B. Hess
  • Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers
  • Publication Date: 27th January 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

In her luminous and engrossing memoir, award-winning writer and teacher, Natalie B.Hess, takes us from a sheltered childhood in a small town in Poland, into, through, after the horrors of the Holocaust.

When her parents are rounded up and perish in the Treblinka concentration camp, a Gentile family temporarily hides six-year-old Natalia. Later, protected by a family friend, she is imprisoned in her city’s ghetto, before she is sent to a forced-labor camp, finally Ravensbrück Concentration camp, from which, at nine, she is liberated.

Taken to Sweden, bu the Swedish White Cross busses, she adapts to and grows to love her new home, becoming a “proper Swedish School girl,” until, at 16, she is claimed by relatives and uprooted to Evansville, Indiana. There, she must start over yet again, mastering English, and ultimately earning a PhD in literature.

As a married young mother, she and her husband move to Jerusalem where they and their three children experience life as Israelis, including the bombing of their home during the Six Day War. Back in the States, they settle into life in Arizona until Natalie’s husband dies unexpectedly when a teenager runs a stop sign and hits his car. In her grief, Natalie moves to Philadelphia to be with her daughter and discovers that life still holds surprises for her, including love.

Hess’s compelling portrait in which terror is muted by gratitude and gentle humor, shares the story of so many immigrants dislocated by the tyranny and war. Through her experience as a child separated from her parents, a teenager, young woman, wife, mother, college professor, and later a widow, Hess shows the power of the human spirit to survive and thrive.

My Thoughts:

From the very opening pages of this memoir, I felt a great connection with Natalie, the things she saw and how she interpreted them felt somewhat natural. And the stark reminder that everyone has a story inside them is never more true when you meet someone new or even just see someone in their day to day life. Take for instance the woman getting on the bus, does she need help? Does she want help? Is she proud of her independence and fiercely going to defend it? What has happened in her life to that point? Could she perhaps have lived through a war that forced her to rely on wits, courage and strength that she wasn’t aware she had?

Keep those questions at the back of your head as you read on about Natalie B. Hess.
As a six-year-old girl growing up in a well-to-do family, Natalia has been protected by many things, but she has never been short of love and affection. And it is this love that keeps her safe and alive, her parents taking steps to hide her when the Nazis were sending Jews to concentration camps. Seeing the situation through the eyes of a six-year-old makes the events more poignant and powerful. Her fears felt so real, I was reading with a tremor of dread. What was going to happen? Would she be added to the list? Would she be ok? Moved from the ghetto to a forced-labor camp, and then onto the infamous Ravensbrück, Natalia quickly matures and I felt a great sadness for her losing the sparks of childhood naivety. She like so many her age not being children, not playing or enjoying games but fearing for their lives and existing in a world that knew only cruelty.

After the liberation of Ravensbrück, Natalia’s life takes on the theme of travel and finding a place where she fits. Life in Sweden feels comfortable, she has a safety, a family, school and she feels “Swedish”. But relatives in America have reached out, and soon she is on a ship and bound for the other side of the world, to the land of opportunity.
It is through her steely determination that she proves her education should continue at the level it was, and not have to start back at the beginning. Losing more of her original identity and her beloved Swedish language, Natalie emerges. Thinking and speaking in English, she finds her place in the world, and follows a path towards qualifications and a career. But something is lacking once she has achieved these goals … everyone around her from training seems to be getting married, Natalie’s great humour and easy-going ways soon have the reader chuckling as she recounts dates.

I found the family’s time in Jerusalem interesting and I certainly took a lot from it, the Six Day War in 1967 was not something I knew much about at all, and so after reading about it in Natalie’s memoir, I wanted to find out more.
But I have to admit that one of the most touching and saddening parts of this memoir was how Natalie coped with the loss of her husband. The details of her thought processes at that time made me stop and think, how she felt so adrift and lost when it came to looking at the mountains of paperwork or the wee things like remembering to pick up the charger for the mobile phone … the things she’d not had to do because there was always someone else that did them. The sense that we form a team with others, and how we rely on them for their presence, comfort and support is often a strong force that can keep us moving on, and to lose it, well that can rip apart the very threads that hold our world together.

There are parts of Natalie’s life that felt so unfair, so hard. But equally, there are parts when happiness and love are so abundant in her life that it felt that things had turned a corner for her. But through it all, she remained the same, strong and courageous. Despite the hardships, the terror she faced, Natalie looked at it with what seems like a level-headed approach. Looking for a way to survive, looking for the next step forward and ultimately coming out of it stronger. Her story is powerful, it’s heartbreaking in places, but above all, there is so much that can be learned from this and I would urge readers to pick this book up.
Learn something from this amazing woman, even if it is just something as simple as asking the old woman in the street if she needs help before assuming she does.

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** My thanks to the folks at Trapeze and NetGalley for my copy of this brilliantly laugh out loud book **

 

Description:

Part autobiography, part self help, part confession, part celebration of being a common-or-garden woman, part collection of synonyms for nunny, Sarah Millican’s debut book delves into her super normal life with daft stories, funny tales and proper advice on how to get past life’s blips – like being good at school but not good at friends, the excitement of IBS and how to blossom post divorce.

If you’ve ever worn glasses at the age of six, worn an off-the-shoulder gown with no confidence, been contacted by an old school bully, lived in your childhood bedroom in your thirties, been gloriously dumped in a Frankie and Benny’s, cried so much you felt great, been for a romantic walk with a dog, worn leggings two days in a row even though they smelt of wee from a distance, then this is YOUR BOOK. If you haven’t done those things but wish you had, THIS IS YOUR BOOK. If you just want to laugh on a train/sofa/toilet or under your desk at work, THIS IS YOUR BOOK.

 

My Thoughts & Review:

How to be Champion is a book that I wish had been written earlier, it’s sort of like a manual for life as a young un, and reminds us that bullies don’t always win.
If you’ve ever seen Sarah Millican live then this book reads as though she were there on the sofa with you recounting the tales of her past.  You can hear her voice as she describes how vital it was to find out if you could wear glasses to disco dance, or how big her admiration is of her parents.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sunshine in the garden, she does tell the reader about how rubbish life could be too, her warts and all frankness is refreshing and her sparkling wit shines though in her writing.

I found I was reading this aloud in sections to my husband and laughing so hard that I had tears rolling down my face, some sections of this are outrageously hilarious and this book proved to be just the “pick me up” that I needed after a stressful week.  I applaud her for her stance on body image, self-esteem, and mental health.  Millican has become an unofficial spokesperson for our generation and does so with great effect.  In at least two of her stage shows she has made a very clear point of mentioning that she has accepted her body image and no longer cares what others think (paraphrasing here), she is who she is and is happy with that and it’s wonderful to see, there so many of us who can empathise with the sentiments and indeed she almost gives you the confidence to say “sod it, this is me, like it or bugger off”.  We’ve all been there, in a changing room trying on clothes that don’t fit and ended up buying a bag instead. 

Her brand of humour is stuffed into this book in spades and I for one love it.  As I mentioned above, it really does read as though you’re sharing a cuppa and a cake with Sarah, it feels like she’s telling her tales directly to you and only you despite the fact there are thousands of copies of this book out there in the hands of lucky readers.

This is a book that I will treasure, and probably keep to pass on to my daughter once she’s old enough.  A book that I wish I’d had in my teens to let me know that there  are some horrible people who will be bullies, there will be times when you wish the ground would swallow you up because of embarrassment but ultimately it’s ok, you can still be champion at the end of it all.

An uplifting and heart gladdening read that made me laugh, nod along in agreement and left me feeling bloody champion about it all!

You can buy a copy of How to be Champion via:

Amazon UK
Wordery
Book Depository

 

 

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