My wife purchased this book, since we had both read and enjoyed Krimstein’s previous book, The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt. This book, like his previous one, is a graphic nonfiction book. Essentially, the author/artist employs the graphic novel format to tell the stories of six Yiddish teenagers living in Lithuania prior to the onset of WWII. The stories are based upon essays that were submitted as a part of a contest. When the Nazis invaded Lithuania, the documents were hidden to prevent their destruction. They were eventually lost, and then rediscovered not long ago.
In the introduction, Krimstein describes how YIVO (the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut) came up with the idea to gather anonymous essays from Yiddish youth to get a better understanding of the Jewish experience.
The plan? An ethnographic study in the guise of a meagerly funded autobiography contest. The grand prize: 150 zlotys (roughly a thousand U.S. dollars in 2021 money) for the best entry. Meaning the most TRUTHFUL entry. (Because what good would the autobiographies be if in the stories the “youth” submitted, they didn’t spill the beans on what was going on—not just the truth, but even more to the point, their unvarnished version of the truth as they lived it?)
Because the submissions needed to be anonymous, the youth were able to express themselves honestly, without fear. The result is a collection of compelling, insightful tales which resonate with truth.
In the Afterward section of the book (which I strongly urge you to read but will leave out the spoiler), Krimstein describes his impression upon first examining the memoirs.
In some sense, these were ordinary student notebooks. But each had details that made it seem to come alive. One, with delicate pages and tiny, precise letters in green between black, faux-leather covers. Another, with sloppy pencil scrawling outside the lines of a baby blue notebook, a map of Poland circa 1936 on its cover. Another, tight black lettering and intricate drawings, almost a graphic memoir.
And then I got it. What I was seeing and feeling weren’t notebooks at all. They were voices, garments, smiles, tears, laughter—each one a distinct individual, a survivor rescued (in a sense) by his or her own words from the lost nation of Yiddishuania, a person.
This is a really fascinating and quick read. I highly recommend it to all readers. I personally enjoyed it immensely.
Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!
“The Prospects for Europe” by Umberto Eco
This is an essay that Eco was asked to write some years back concerning how he viewed the current state of the European Union. Not surprising, it seemed kind of dated and irrelevant to me, for the most part. That said, there are still some interesting points that are worth considering.
Eco asserts that there is a noticeable movement toward a European identity as opposed to being identified by a particular nationality.
While I have not traveled extensively in Europe (so far I have visited England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Germany), I am inclined to agree with Eco. While I recognize the difference in cultures, the people all share a definite European-ness, for lack of a better word. In fact, I notice more differences between regional cultures in the United States. The differences between people in New York and Mississippi are stark, as are those between Mid-Westerners and residents of the Pacific Northwest. But that said, there is still a shared American identity, and this is similar to the shared European identity that Eco points out.
The other assertion that Eco makes which is interesting is his projection that American attention will shift from the Atlantic region to the Pacific as a result of the economic connection with Asian countries.
As much as I don’t want to accept this, I have to concede there is a bit of truth here. It certainly seems like there are currently more business and employment opportunities on the West Coast of the US. And if Eco’s prophesy is fulfilled, then this shift may have an economic impact on Europe.
Filed under Literature, Non-fiction
Tagged as America, Asia, Atlantic, books, business, commentary, criticism, culture, economy, employment, essay, Europe, European Union, identity, Italian, Italy, literature, nationality, Pacific, reading, review, social change, society, Umberto Eco