23 July 2009

23. A Woman in Amber

I think perhaps that I have owned this book for quite some time and if I have read it before, I don’t remember it – I find this highly unlikely. At any rate, I am honored to have read it now. A Woman in Amber by Agate Nesaule is a startling memoir of the author’s childhood experiences during the Russian and German occupation of her homeland of Latvia. While the horrors of the war were bad enough in her own country, her Lutheran father and mother, along with other family members, were forced to flee from the competing armies. Their journey was remarkable in complexity and perhaps luck.

As I read her accounts of war, I wondered what the appropriate age level would be for this memoir. The scenes described are brutal and difficult to think about or discuss. The author solved my problem in two ways. First, as a new immigrant to the United States, she learned English by reading tremendous works of literature. Her teachers questioned whether she was old enough to read such works. Her life experiences and understanding of the beauty and sorrow of the world made her absolutely capable of reading Anna Karenina at 10 years old. Second, I would like to share some of her final words in the book:
But the world is full of pain. Anne Frank, Heidi, and Hilda are dead, but Kurds still freeze on the hillsides, Bosnian women have to live on after rape, Rwandan children stand waiting, too emaciated to beg….But then the sun touches the blossoms again. We have to believe that dreams are meaningful, we have to believe that even the briefest human connections can heal. Otherwise life is unbearable. (p. 280)
So I think any child interested in learning about human pain and human healing should be able to absorb the richness of the story that Nesaule was finally able to tell. She endured the war, shameful indignities at the hands of Americans, a disastrous marriage, and finally through therapy and trust, Nesaule has given us her story; a unique memoir of the horrors of World War II. The other part of her equation of survival and hope is education. Early in her life, she learned from poet Karlis Skalbe that, The riches of the heart do not rust. (p. 121) To the Latvians, this meant that even if you lost every material thing, family, and country – no one can take away that which has been learned. In spite of near constant fear and depression, Nesaule completed her Ph.D. in Women’s Literature and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The book won the 1996 American Book Award.
While you will need to read the book to understand my final comment, I am very happy that she reconciled with her mother, if only in a dream. Sometimes dreams represent more clearly our reality.

TITLE: A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile
AUTHOR: Agate Nesaule
PAGES: 280
TYPE: memoir, World War II
RECOMMEND: Stunningly beautiful book with so much we need to hear and learn.

1 comment:

Jew Wishes said...

Your review is excellent, making the book sound quite compelling.