Book: Jet Lag
Author: Ann Birstein
I took up JetLag on a recommendation from Sonali’s Book Club. That it was a World War II book was of course another big reason.
This is a travelogue..
..by the author who signs up for a European Discovery Tour – a trip that would take her to Jewish sites across Eastern Europe. She feels the need to explore her Jewish roots, to see the ‘origin’ as she puts it.
Along with her on the tour is a group of people each prompted by their own reasons. They travel from Warsaw and Auschwitz to Lithuania, Chez Republic and Hungary visiting all the sites of the horrible tragedy that was WW II. In Lithuania she visits the Yeshiva (Jewish Educational Institution) where her father had studied and tries to imagine what his life would have been like.
What I liked
The book brings home the tragedy in all its horror. Through Ann and her erudite guide we get to know of countless stories of life in the ghettos. These are stories of horror of course yet also of hope because people continued to believe that the madness had to end.
The Jews led almost regular lives, at least initially. They ran libraries, taught music and organised children’s operas. It is amazing how people kept on living ‘normal’ lives even in the most cruel, abnormal conditions. It shocked me to realise how easily we adapt to and accept whatever circumstances we are forced to live in. And that, I believe, is the biggest lesson history teaches us – to protest an unfair act no matter how small.
Many of them defied the rules too. They did it systematically and repeatedly till even that became their new normal. Above all, they wrote and photographed, constantly chronicling whatever was happening around them, leaving it all for posterity even as their numbers depleted day by day with groups of them being transported to the ovens.
Some instances talked about in the book will stay with me for a long time.
There were mentions of people like Emanuel Ringelblum the Warsaw Ghetto chronicler, Photographer George Kadish from Kovno, Lithuania and Abraham Sutzkever with his lyrical yet terrible descriptions of the holocaust. I spent hours looking each of them up on the Net and following their pictures.
The statistics are stunning in their enormity.
What could have been better
While the ghetto stories were inspiring as well as heart-breaking, the memoir didn’t draw me in. The narrative never became personal hence turned dull in parts.
Also, the people on the tour didn’t really come together as a group. I missed the warmth, the mutual sympathy that comes through a shared tragedy. Most of them had back stories but they were rather tenuous ones and I couldn’t connect with them with the exception of Rita and Max. They had both been at the concentration camps when they were young. Rita, as an 18-year-old, was incarcerated at Auschwitz and her husband Max was on the Schildler’s List. Their stories were moving, their dignity in the face of trauma, impressive. A book from their perspective would be worth a read.
I struggled with Yiddish terms and was glad I was reading it on the Kindle so I could look up the words as I went along.
Last thought: This one certainly deserves a read, however it is more of a fact file on WWII than a personal narrative.
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