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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An inspirational story of determination, love and tolerance, 25 Mar 2008
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This review is from: A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer (Paperback)
I was intrigued to find that Melissa Muller is the famed writer of Traudl Junge's story of her time in the bunker with Hitler, later made into the film 'Downfall'. She is fortunate to have been given such great material and this biography is also full of interesting snippets. To me though the book is not that well written, the prose is too, too plain whereas it could have had the makings of a great book in the right hands.

Alice Hertz was born in Prague in 1903 and is still allive and well, living independantly in London, practising the piano every day and enjoying her life to the full with friends and family. She is a truly remarkable woman who even now at 104 has a fun and positive outlook on life, which is clearly how she has survived so much sadness, hardship and events that have killed many many less stoical people.

From the start her enthusiasm and zest for life knew no bounds and she decided to become a musician, playing for hours and achieving her ambitions by becoming a much feted pianist in concerts and on radio.

Born of non religeous German jews, Alice had a middle class though in no way privelidged childhood, her father had a scales factory and she worked hard to achieve her goals. This was all thwarted though with the Nazi occupation and her transport to the ghetto along with her husband and 6 year old son. Some of the writing here evokes the sheer terror they must have faced, for example on the morning of their departure the caretaker walks into their appartment followed by other neighbours and they start to take their things - this is at 4.00 am. Leopold her husband says 'They already think we are dead'. Alice and her son's survival were all down to her resourcefulness in the face of the Nazis and it is truly amazing. They were amongst a small number who returned but were faced with derision by their fellow Czechs. Overheard on a train 'So many of them came back, there must have been too many holes in the gas chambers'. This was enough to force Alice to flee to Israel, which was no picnic either, having to learn Hebrew and support her son, who later became a professional Cellist.

For me the highlights of the book are the photos, many of which tell moving stories. The tin spoon -the only item left of her husband after he was sent to Dachau, the photo of Stephan aged 6 standing under the sign at the park saying 'Jews forbidden'.

Another wonderful page is the one written by her late son praising his mother for making his childhood so happy.

A fantastic story by an amazing woman but as another reviewer says 'Could have been better'.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 15 Apr 2010 15:42:49 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Apr 2010 20:28:17 BDT
Annadove says:
The story is amazing but the prose is, sadly lacking: halting and pedestrian. I am struggling to get involved in a book that is so badly written. Even the front cover exclaims: "Where a mother's love triumphed over the Nazi's (sic)". Do read the book but what a shame to see this rich material expressed so poorly.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Apr 2010 13:47:15 BDT
Sally Wilton says:
I agree hence my comment at the end. The writer wrote the book about Hitler's secretary that was later made into the film downfall too - I don't know how she gets these contracts!!

Posted on 18 Apr 2010 20:27:32 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Apr 2010 20:30:16 BDT
Annadove says:
It was translated (presumably from German) - perhaps this is why the prose doesn't flow? In my opinion the earlier chapters are the worst - it does improve later. But please don't be put off buying the book - the story of Alice Herz Sommer is a fantastic one and left me quite stunned - what courage and tenacity.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Feb 2011 13:53:48 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Feb 2011 13:56:17 GMT
GlynLuke says:
To Sally Wilton: pots & kettles? There ought to be a comma before `hence`; the film needs a capital D; and why two exclamation marks? (Sorry, but if you can`t stand the heat...)

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2011 23:41:35 BDT
Sally Wilton says:
First I am not submitting a book for publication here. Second the sorts of mistakes I have made are irrelevant in a novel and certainly don't matter on an internet comments page.

The other comments here back up what I have said in that the story is poorly written. I think the story itself is great but the writer is not. You can have your own opinion if you have read the book.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Dec 2012 17:23:47 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Dec 2012 17:26:52 GMT
GlynLuke says:
Sally,
I disagree with your second sentence above, especially as you obviously know how to write, but hey - let`s not spoil a beautiful friendship.
By the way, may I suggest a shorter, quite well-written biography of this remarkable woman, called (rather facilely) A Century of Wisdom, by Caroline Stoessinger. There are far fewer photos but it`s nicely put together, and probably better written than this one.
Regards,
Glyn
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