Touchstone - Nonfiction/Memoir/History
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!