Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Pages In Between by Erin Einhorn

The Pages In Between by Erin Einhorn
Copyright 2008
Touchstone - Nonfiction/Memoir/History
276 pages

Subtitled "A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home," The Pages In Between is less a story of the Holocaust than it is a daughter's search to uncover the remarkable story of her Jewish mother, who was hidden in Poland during WWII, and her family's far-branching roots in the area.

What led you to pick up this book? WWII is one of my fascinations and this book was showing up all over the place. I just couldn't stand it; I had to read it.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Well, hmm, I'm not sure what could be referred to as giving anything away, but I'll separate anything that could possibly be considered a spoiler. The author's mother was a baby when her parents were shipped to Auschwitz -- she was not with them when they were herded onto a transport train. Erin Einhorn's grandfather, however, managed to escape from the train and stayed free just long enough to spirit his daughter into the hands of a Polish woman who agreed to hide her. He survived the war, retrieved his daughter and eventually moved to the U.S. with daughter Irene and a new wife. Irene never really said much about her escape, instead brushing off her daughter's inquiries.

The majority of Jews of Polish ancestry probably spend a week or two seeking out answers in the country. The author, a journalist, took a year's leave of absence from her newspaper job and moved to Poland, instead. As she uncovered her family's history, she ran into some interesting complications and I truly don't believe I can describe this book without mentioning the tragedy that hit her family, so . . .

Potential spoiler warning . . . skip if you're afraid I'll tell you too much

. . . During her year off, Einhorn's mother died. I think it's important to mention because the author found and met the son of the man who saved her mother from the Nazis, but -- here's where it gets weird -- the woman who sheltered baby Irene took compensation for hiding the child and the compensation was major: a complex of buildings owned by the child's father's family. There are some other twists and turns, but the reason I think it's important has to do with the fact that eventually the story focused as much on her effort to regain ownership of the building as it did on the family history.

Okay, you can uncover your eyes, now.

What did you like most about the book? In a way, it reads a bit like a mystery as the author began to dig for the truth about her mother's past and discovered not only some very fascinating bits of family history, but also that some of the family legends and a few of her mother's memories were not accurate.

How did you feel about the real-life characters involved in this author's tale? I got so darned involved. That was good; I really wanted to learn about her family's history. And yet, there were some things that bothered me about the people. It was really very difficult to tell whether or not the Polish family who took in Einhorn's mother did so without the simple ulterior motive of acquiring property. And, yet, you have to admit that matters little when the result was the sparing of a life.

And, then there's the author. She is probably a very nice person, but she came off as whiny and obsessive. I say she's probably nice because it appeared that she made friends easily and you have to admire her diligent efforts to uncover the truth. But, it was kind of hard to tell just what on earth she was really after. I guess in order to understand my own feelings about her search, you have to understand that my mother was similarly secretive about her past. And, because I've never felt compelled to dig further, I found it a little bizarre that the auther was obsessed enough to actually move overseas. Overkill? Hard to say. I don't think we all necessarily feel the same need to uncover family secrets, so I respect her burning need to find answers.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book? The whole mess about that set of buildings just seemed ridiculous to me. On the one hand, I understand the author's curiosity and why people who are related to a Holocaust survivor would want answers about what happened to their family members and to discover information about their ancestry and where they came from. I know scattered bits about my own history and it's fascinating; my French ancestors were among the Protestants driven out of France hundreds of years ago -- same story, different place and religion. But, I don't understand why anyone would expect to have property that has been in someone else's hands restored to them a generation or two hence. So, I really kept hoping the author would just walk away from the property issues, do her research and tell the good stories. I didn't care about the buildings; it's the people that are important, in my humble opinion.

Recommended? Yes, but with a warning that you have to be a little patient to get to the good stuff. I would call this an average read because I personally wanted to slap the author upside the head and say, "Give up on trying to get the building problem cleared up and just focus on the real story, the history of your family." But, that's me. I wouldn't tell anyone to avoid this book, but I will say it was not a personal favorite. It will, however, probably stick with me for a while. There are some haunting details that keep rolling around in my head.

Anything else worth mentioning? The author was adamant that she had learned an important lesson: she went to Poland with a prejudice against Polish people and left with the understanding that humans are the same everywhere. She met and befriended some truly amazing, generous people. I was particularly impressed with the kindness of those who traveled with her, translating conversations and documents.

Cover thoughts: The cover grabbed me because of the top photo. I wanted to know who those people were, whether they lived through the war, what stories they could tell. The building at the bottom is a clue that the story is not just about the people, but I didn't catch that. It's all relevant to the content and it works for me. I like it.

Moving right along: For some reason I don't fully understand, I just signed up for Twitter. Why? I must be feeling lonely, which probably means I need to get a couple of kittens. Anyway, I haven't figured out exactly how one twits, but I already knew there was something wrong with me. Feel free to let me know what on earth I'm supposed to do.

No great photos, this week. That weather was really something. I need to go on a field trip. Have a great weekend!

28 comments:

  1. It does sound like one of those books. The property question seems strange to me, too. I mean, if they gave up the property in exchange for keeping the baby safe...

    WWII is such a complex topic, isn't it?

    Twitter, huh? So far I've avoided the need to get in on the twits and the tweets.

    cjh

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  2. LOL. I know what you mean about Twitter. I signed up a couple weeks ago or so but haven't posted, or should I say tweeted, yet. People keep finding me though so I've got several followers already and I haven't even said anything. I suppose I'll have to soon. :P

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  3. The book sounds interesting, but I think I'll skip it for now. Thanks for your review.

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  4. CJ,

    It is definitely very complex. I waffled a lot because Einhorn's grandfather had trouble making a living and could have used income earned from rentals -- and yet, I can't help but think it's better to give up a bunch of buildings to keep someone alive than to lose just one life. And, you have to ask . . . Could he ever have returned and made a living? I don't think so.

    This isn't the first time I've come across a memoir with an issue about someone disputing property taken from a family during war. The other book I read took place in another country, but I felt pretty much the same -- the woman who went in search of answers in that case did end up eventually owning the family home, but they had prospered in the U.S. and I didn't understand why they would bother. Apparently, I'm not big into real estate. LOL

    It's possible I'll never utter a tweet. I don't know what came over me.

    Nat,

    I didn't know you were a Twitterer. They don't really give you a lot of guidance for starting out, so I just signed up and read the welcome email, then went to bed thinking, "Maybe later. Maybe not."

    Kathy,

    It's an interesting book, but I wouldn't move mountains to acquire a copy. I think it's probably best for those who love to read anything and everything about WWII or Jewish history.

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  5. This was put on to my wishlist a month or so ago....yours is one of the first reviews I've read. I have a slight obsession with anything WWII related, so I'll probably give it a go at some point.

    Twitter? Just log in, find me and Kathy and then you'll see what nonsense we jabber about. (Altho I must say I've gotten some great links to great book-related stuff via twitter, too).

    :)

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  6. I love how you 'flow' your reviews - do you use the same questions/bolded guides? OBVIOUSLY I don't pat attn to much, huh.

    Thx for the sugs on my challenge list.

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  7. Michelle,

    I have a WWII obsession, too. I've got two WWII books on my desk, here:

    A Lovely Little War: Life in a Japanese prison camp through the eyes of a child by Angus Lorenzen

    We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese by Elizabeth M. Norman

    Seems to be a theme, there. LOL

    I'll see if I can figure out how to find you on twitter, when I have a minute (I'm quickly responding to comments, then back to wrapping I go). Thanks!!! :)

    Care,

    I don't use the same format absolutely every time -- and sometimes I change the questions a bit if I think I have something in particular I want to highlight. Thank you! And, feel free to use those questions, if you'd like. I'm not sure where I got the original set, but I'm not the first to use that Q/A format. :)

    You're welcome! Your challenge list really looks terrific. I saw a lot of favorites.

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  8. You will make a fabulous twit. Wait, did that come out right? lol.

    Well darn. I hate that era and I keep hearing and then reading fascinating books from it. It wasn't safe or popular to shield anyone from the Nazi's so that might explain why the woman who took Irene in got a couple of buildings out of it.

    Compassion is a wonderful thing, but then again, self interest stands a lot longer, y'know? If I was her father on my way to the death camps, I might give someone hefty compensation to make reasonably sure my daughter would be cared for.

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  9. I've read one or two books set during this period (sometimes written during it) but for the most part I tend to shy away from such a serious subject because 9 times out of 10 I find it too depressing for me :(

    Sorry. You're on your own with Twitter here lol. I've tried it before and couldn't make heads or tails of it.

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  10. Carrie,

    Heh. Always the card.

    WWII is my favorite time period, but my favorite stories invariably have come from Great Britain. I think they had such a fabulous attitude whilst being blitzed.

    I think I'm just really biased in the direction of "sheltering a human when you could easily be shot or sent to a camp yourself is worth a few buildings." I didn't mention that eventually the grandfather and the woman who sheltered his daughter had a dispute. Both were shy on money (he was struck on the head by Nazis and developed epilepsy, which caused difficulty with keeping a job) but she apparently thought that, since he'd become an American, he was made of money and should buy her a Chevrolet. Uh, what? That adds a little confusion factor. But, it sort of ticked me off when the author referred to the complex as "our buildings" or something similar. She tried to get possession to help the family, but it was all so very twisted that I didn't understand why she didn't leave it alone.

    Tink,

    I can only sometimes read about the Holocaust or anything else depressing. I mix up my reading quite a bit, and if things get too heavy I simply shut down and stop reading till I find something light to keep me from losing it.

    Well, I twitted once. And, then I thought, "That was stupid. Who cares what I just did?" I don't understand it well enough to carry on a conversation.

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  11. Great review! This book sounds worthwile.

    I am trying to resist checking out Twitter because I'm not finding enough time to read as it is. Google reader, my blog, and my Yahoo groups keep me way too busy. I just recently cut back my groups a bit, but it's barely made a dent.

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  12. Teddy Rose,

    I definitely think it's worth a read. The building issue is even interesting, at times -- it shows you how fortunate we are to have a logical system for taxes.

    Twitter is okay, so far. There seems to be a letter limit, so you have to keep your thoughts short. It's nice to feel like your friends are right there, telling you what they're up to. But, yeah. I'm having trouble squeezing everything in, too.

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  13. Excellent review. Aroused both my interest and my caution!

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  14. I'm obsessed with WWII, too. I need to make time to read more nonfiction, though. It always seems to get nudged aside.

    Twitter, eh? I've seen it but I'm not interested at this point. I'm such a Luddite. Actually, I just have too much else to mess with at the moment. ;)

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  15. Oh no--you hopped on the twitter bandwagon also? I refuse. Yup...no way. Not doing it. :)

    This book sounds really fascinating--especially after just finishing The Zookeeper's Wife and realizing how undereducated I am about the Polish Holocaust. It seems that for one of my undergrad history classes I had to read a book about the Jewish Exodus in the years leading up to the war focused primarily on Russia and Eastern Europe, but other than that...don't know a whole lot. I'll definitely put this on the list (and remember to be patient for the "good stuff")

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  16. Jenclair,

    I'd love to hear your thoughts about this book. Let me know if you read it, please!

    Les,

    I've just recently realized I read an awful lot of nonfiction. Yep, WWII is a favorite. I particularly enjoy memoirs.

    You're not a Luddite; you're just a Luddite Pretender, I swear. LOL Twitter is okay, actually. It makes me feel a tiny bit less lonely. Although, frankly, I still probably need kittens.

    Trish,

    Twitter's not as bad as I thought. I resisted because I don't feel like I need more time suckage, but it's not a big time suck, really. That's surprised me.

    I can't say I'm well-read on the Poland during the Holocaust, but I did know how few survived. There's a comment in there about Schindler's List, which I haven't managed to read (the movie was so gut-wrenching, I've never talked myself into reading the book). My eldest son tried to read it and it upset him so badly that he stopped.

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  17. This one is on my wish list and I'll probably still read it as I like to read anything war related. I just may wait a little longer to do it.

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  18. Dar,

    I'm exactly the same; I love reading war stories. I would not discourage anyone from reading this book. It wasn't a personal favorite, but it certainly has its merits. I think her writing is clear and it's always the little stories within the big story that fascinate me. She unearthed some really interesting tidbits about her family.

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  19. Awesome review... uah i know.. sometimes.. i feel the same abt someauthors... tell them to move on to the Actual story and not beat around smewhere... it shows u were really loooking forward to know more :)

    :)
    I like the premise.. well if she has not gone.. we wont have a book ... and we wont knw much :)

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  20. Okay, so I had a totally different impression of what was going on with the property thing.

    SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    my thoughts:
    The Polish family never had legal ownership of the buildings so they could do anything with them, such as legally collect rent. They were frustrated by this and Einhorn was trying to give them the buildings legally but she couldn't do that without getting all the ancestors of her grandfather to agree. I thought it was pretty heroic how much time she spent on it, seeing as she wasn't going to get anything out of it financially. I don't think she ever wanted the buildings for herself. They pretty much lived in these buildings rent-free for a long, long time. For me, it was a question, of what does she owe these Polish people, descendents of people who saved her mother's life.

    Thoughts?

    Also, I mailed The Green Beauty Guide today, I hope it gets there safely!

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  21. Tara,

    SPOILERS!!!!

    Yep, I understood the tax and rent situation, but I thought it was a bit much to go into in a review. My thought was that it probably would have been best for the family for her to stay out of that mess, once she discovered the Polish system was so wacked up. I didn't think throwing money at the problem served any purpose -- that was a very American approach and she was repeatedly told she couldn't expect a logical resolution. I did think it was kind of her to try to help. And, yet, referring to those buildings as the possession of her family really bothered me. I didn't see it that way; I thought Honorata earned what she was offered by sheltering a child, whether or not her motives were pure.

    Of course, in the end, Helen did take legal matters into her own hands. The idea of nominating the son for an award to give him extra income made sense to me, though. I thought the family really ought to keep those buildings and be able to earn an income from them; I just didn't think her way of going about it made sense.

    Oh, cool, thank you! I'm really looking forward to getting The Green Beauty Guide. :)

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  22. Thanks for your response! I see what you're thinking now.

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  23. Tara,

    I'm glad you dropped by. It's nice to have someone to discuss those details with. :)

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  24. This is in my TBR pile. I'll be reading it for our WWII challenge.

    I enjoyed your review and wondered if it would be okay to post a link to it on War Through the Generations: Reading Challenges?

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  25. Anna,

    I keep procrastinating, but I need to sign up for your challenge. Yes, it's fine with me if you'd like to post a link. :)

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  26. Thanks! I posted the link here:
    http://warthroughthegenerations.wordpress.com/book-reviews-wwii/

    I'd love for you to sign up for the challenge!

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  27. Anna,

    I keep thinking I've got to sign up. I guess now is a good time. :) I've actually even set aside a shelf for WWII reads!

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  28. So glad you signed up!! I'm looking forward to seeing what books you choose.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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