Beautiful Days of My Youth

Ana Novac, Author, George Newman, Translator
Ana Novac, Author, George Newman, Translator Henry Holt & Company $15.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8050-5018-9
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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This memoir of the Holocaust is remarkable on at least two counts: the high caliber of its prose, and its extraordinary provenance as a document originally drafted in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Acerbic and absorbing, the observations here have a rare and chilling potency. The author, from a Jewish family in Northern Transylvania, was arrested in May, 1944, when she was almost 15; what she describes in her foreword as a ""benign amnesia"" has erased her memories of arrival in Auschwitz. Once there, however, she miraculously found a pencil stub and devised writing paper, and began recording her experiences. (Endnotes document other diaries and manuscripts by concentration camp prisoners.) She preserved what remains of her diary by various means: she hid scraps of it in her shoes and those of her friends, and at one point, in the Plaszow work camp, she arranged to have a portion of it smuggled out by a freed Polish prisoner. Novac, who recently retranslated her diary from its Hungarian original to French, writes with a shrewd and practiced eye, aiming to create a chronicle of use to others even as she avoids self-consciousness or stiffness in her role as journalist. She girds herself in irony, and her caustic tones seem both to reflect the extreme harshness of her surroundings and to represent the detachment she needed in order to survive. Describing the general reaction to the announcement that girls who volunteer for a ""selection"" will be brought to a rest camp, she observes, ""Here, someone has always seen everything (with her own eyes), and there's always someone to swear to it. Someone already saw the white bread, the new clothes waiting for us, and the toothbrushes..."" She sketches prisoners and kapos with merciless clarity, characterizing them with a few vigorous sentences, and unforgettably capturing the current of tensions that continually sweep through the barracks. There are no special concessions here to YA readers (beyond, perhaps, the inclusion of a glossary and explanatory endnotes), nor anything particularly ""young"" about the material. It would be a shame for the YA classification to limit this book's audience--it deserves the attention of any reader who wishes to understand life, death and survival in Hitler's camps. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)
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