Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop Women's Shop Men's

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 25 August 2013
This is a wonderful uplifting and inspirational book about a lady who suffered much physically and mentally and who survived against the odds and still sees the beauty of the world we live in despite the ugliness which we sometimes encounter in it.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Alice Sommer, aged 108 as I write and still an inspirational person to meet, certainly conveys great wisdom - a wisdom, an inner peace and serenity which, no doubt, have played a role in achieving such longevity: a rejection of bitterness after her experience of the Holocaust in which she lost her mother and her husband and her own ordeal in Theresiensadt; an acknowledgment of the existence of evil without dwelling on it, but instead a constant marvelling at the beauties of life and of nature, (she often says that the older she gets, the more beautiful she finds life); her uncomplainig acceptance of the frailties of old age; the unselfconscious simplicity of the Spartan life which, these days, she lives in a small flat; a lively interest in the world and especially in the people around her; her human warmth and the way this is reciprocated towards her by hundreds of the people she has been in contact with throughout her life; the inspiration she draws from the philosophy of Spinoza and from the lives of the great composers; above all, the solace, the never-ending exploration and inspiration of music which kept her alive, in more senses of the word than one, in Theresienstadt.

All these qualities emerge from the account of Caroline Stoessinger's book, which will be a good introduction for someone who knows little or nothing about Alice Sommer. It is half the length or another biography by Melissa Müller and Reinhard Piechocki called "A Garden of Eden in Hell", which was first published in English five years earlier: see my Amazon review, which gives details of her life (though be warned that three of its readers has complained that it gives away too much.) She certainly has drawn on this, though she has had "countless hours of conversations and filmed interviews [with her] from 2004 to 2011". One does have to ask whether the present book adds anything that cannot be found in the earlier one, and one has to say that there is relatively little of substance: the account of her life in Thersienstadt includes more painful details about the internee Kurt Gerron who was forced by the Nazis to make a sham film about the life of the internees; there is more about Michal Mares, whom she might have married had he not received a seven year prison sentence from the Communist authorities in Czechoslovakia the year before Alice left Communist Czechoslovakia for Israel; Alice's meetings with Golda Meir (who set about peeling potatoes in Alice's kitchen, and who would ask Alice to give her piano lessons once Golda had retired - alas, it never came to that); knowing Daniel Barenboim since his days as a child prodigy and receiving a visit of condolence from him on the death of Alice's son); an illuminating account of the characteristic way in which Alice dealt with the tensions between her son and his first wife. There are the passages about Spinoza, and, above all, there is a more detailed account of how Alice lives now, of her closest friends who still visit her regularly; of tributes from the former music pupils she so inspired with her brilliance and warmth as a teacher. And there is an appendix called "In Alice's Words", in which we get a fair summary of Alice's philosophy of life.

After a brief outline of Alice's life in the Prelude, there is a complete absence of chronology as the author, without any rhyme or reason, darts backwards and forwards in the story. I was initially quite shocked when, after a mere eight pages on Theresienstadt, we suddenly move to Alice meeting Golda Meir in Israel. But we return to Theresienstadt off and on throughout the book. The same is true of episodes in Israel, in London, in Prague. I cannot see the point of such a disorienting technique.

The historical background - the Nazi take-over of Czechoslovakia, the life of Eichmann, the Communist seizure of power etc - is told in more detail than I think is necessary; and, a final and minor point, the Kindle edition is irritatingly sprinkled with dashes in all sorts of inappropriate places.
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 17 October 2013
I bought this book in good faith as I had read A Garden Of Eden which was wonderful and a book written with Alice Herz-Sommers approval. I bought this book after and then got in contact with Alice's grandson who visits her daily and to my surprise it turns out that Caroline Stoessinger wrote this book without Alice's approval. The family are not friends with Caroline and it's a shame that she is using Alice for their own profit. Sent this book straight to the charity shop half read. It's not even that good a read to be honest! A Garden Of Eden is far better and is the offical book. I don't like to think this author had the good fortune to meet Alice, then quizzed her purely to write this book then went off and did it without Alice knowing. How's that the way to treat someone?
0Comment| 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 7 March 2013
Alice Herz-Sommer lives simply, frugally even, in a modest one-room London flat, but given the priceless treasures of her mind, the wide and cultured circle of her friends and the esteem in which she is held, who could ever describe her as poor? "I am richer than the world's richest people because I am a musician", she says - music is not only her treasure but religion, philosophy, family, and in the concentration camp, even food.

Her life is a rejection of, and a refreshing antidote to, the values of our superficial celebrity-obsessed society, which often brainwashes us into judging ourselves and each other in material terms, and her optimistic approach to life is inspiring. Although she lost her husband, mother and many of her friends in the Nazi Holocaust, she displays an almost superhuman absence of bitterness. Hatred, she maintains, eats the soul of the hater.

Of particular interest to me was an account of her brief meeting as a child with her mother's childhood friend Gustav Mahler - it's amazing to find that there's someone alive today who actually met him in person. I was glad, though, to have first read an earlier book about Alice, "A Garden of Eden in Hell", because of its more straightforward chronology - it goes into more detail (although sometimes too much) and helped me to discover, or rediscover, the Chopin etudes she played with such passion and commitment in the ghetto of Terezin. This is a valuable book, perhaps even essential reading on several levels but especially for helping to keep a perspective on the things that are really important. In a world where our idols all too often turn out to have feet of clay, discovering Alice goes a long way toward restoring our faith in human nature.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Alice Herz - Sommer was the Prague child of wealthy parents, grew up in the circle of people that have marked the past century with their works such as Franz Kafka, Gustav Mahler, Reiner Maria Rilke, Martin Buber and others. Later, she was friend of Golda Meir, attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the greater part of her life spent teaching at the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. She is a woman who has experienced the greatest rewards that civilization can offer and survived the greatest evilness man has devised. That is why a book of her life is filled with stories of both extremes.

Her most difficult memories of which she didn’t like to talk originate from the years spent in a concentration camp in the outskirts of Prague, Theresienstadt - Nazi transit camp to Auschwitz. The wagons that came to the camp took away the lives of countless intellectuals, writers, painters, musicians. Specifically, Theresienstadt was a special concentration camp, a cover-up that was created to show how the Jews were actually treated very well by Germans, having lots of "privileges" and how they were feeling "comfortable". Given that within its walls camp housed the largest number of Czech artists (they could put together a three symphonic orchestras), they were allowed to hold concerts in order to maintain Nazi propaganda that camps are not actually the camps.

Alice's family fled to Palestine before the Second World War II started, and her husband was separated from her at the entrance to Theresienstadt and later taken to Auschwitz, from which he never came back. In the worst circumstances, Alice already recognized and well-known pianist, played in order to save the life of herself and her only son. Together with other artists she secretly taught the children and played hundreds of concerts for the prisoners, of course, without notations that were not allowed in the camp.

After the war, she remained without anything; therefore she emigrated with her son in the newly established state of Israel and started a new life. Most of those who listened to her appearances before the war for decades did not know that she survived the war, but her friends and acquaintances claim that she as one of the best Czechoslovakian pianists, would certainly made an international career if she decided to stay in her homeland. She never wanted to profit from her life tragedy, and after the war she had never received Czech citizenship. Her son became a respected cellist and because of his career the last decades of her life Alice spent in London. Alice neighbors rejoiced her exercise classes at a small piano, even in her 110th year. Students which were taught by her were always saying how Alice instilled in them a love towards work, while her friends praised Alice’s incredible will to live.

‘Century of Wisdom' is one pianist venture into the writers water, and although Caroline Stoessinger swam well, still she obviously lacks some "swimming" techniques. Regardless, her book is a wonderful biography of a woman that indeed behind her has a century of wisdom. But apart from wisdom, Caroline Stoessinger managed to transfer something much more important to reader – Alice’s indestructible spirit and optimism that are almost palpable while reading the pages of this beautiful book. All readers will irreversibly be infected with it.

Unfortunately Alice has not lived long enough to become a living witness to something that somehow circled her rich life - winning an Oscar for short documentary film made on the theme of her life. The awards ceremony took place just a week too late after she left this world on 23rd of February this year. We can only regret that on this occasion she did not have the opportunity to once again address the world with her infectious smile.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 16 August 2013
A fascinating account of this remarkable lady's life. An accomplished and dedicated pianist relates to the author her encounters and in many cases lasting friendships with well known musicians, composers, writers and politicians. In particular her friendship with Franz Kafka and Golda Meir.
July 1943 Alice and her husband and son were deported from Prague to Theresienstadt. She speaks little of the privations suffered whilst there. Fortunately her concerts performed at the camp and the appreciation of a nazi soldier of her music may have been the reason why she and her son were not deported to Auschwitz.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 20 September 2013
A remarkable story of a remarkable lady who despite everything she suffered, along with thousands of other Jews, never gave up hope. She then continues to live her life to the full well past the age of 100. This was not the type of book I have read in the past, but I became completely absorbed in the story. An excellent read.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 3 January 2013
What a wonderful person. One of the few people I'd like to meet. Such a rich life despite such suffering
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 June 2014
A very involving story of a remarkable lady. How she has lived to such a great age is amazing together with her marvellous memory!! Her repertoire of music is stored inside her head. (I need to read music in order to play!). A wonderful role model for today's times.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 12 March 2014
What a wonderful lady she has been. A true example of living to your true self, despite extremely dire circumstances, and being positive every day of your life.

Highly recommended for every body, very well written as well!
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)