Publisher: Self published
Type of book: Hungary, Carpathian Mountains, Judaism, 1928-2003, Holocaust, large family, siblings, closeness, post WWII, WWII, labor camp, New York, America, reactions to Holocaust, abandonment, hiding, Israel, life events, Concentration Camps
Year it was published: 2016
Through personal narrative and letters preserved for decades, Béla’s Letters tells the remarkable story of a large Eastern European family torn apart by war and the Holocaust, the extraordinary circumstances that each family member endures, and the survivors’ struggle to come to terms with the feelings of guilt, hatred, fear, and abandonment that haunt them.
There are honestly a lot of characters, both major and minor ones. The main character is Bela, fifth child of Kalman Ingber and Eszter Mermelstein. He is resourceful, a hard worker, intelligent and loyal to family and friends. At the same time, in beginning, he tends to be afraid of change and always puts his family above even his spouse. There is also Joska Ingber, the elder brother who is incredibly loyal to the family and will do whatever he can for his siblings. Adolph Ingber is the younger sibling and he is one that leaves things for better or worse. Miki strikes me as the type that's defiant and angry at the world and also protectively loyal to women in his life. I feel that very little is known of Libu aside from the impression I have of her as someone who seems to carry a lot of anxiety. Marika also is a main character and personally for me she seems to struggle with learning to be part of Bela's family.
There are no neatly wrapped packages in life
The story is in the first person narrative from Bela's point of view. The reader starts in 1928 and meets Bela and his family and also is a witness to Jewish community prior to WWII and how it lived and functioned in Carpathian Mountains. Afterwards, with Bela, the reader becomes a witness to fighting to stay alive in a labor camp and later on learning about the Holocaust and picking up pieces afterwards. Although I enjoyed the book a great deal, I do feel that a few things need to be worked on; one being the characters and the other a minor plot point. I often felt that the characters' pesonalities were more often "tell" than "show". Also one of the brothers was married twice, but the first wedding is more off-scene while I felt that it should have been included in the book
About the Author
Clocking in at 572 pages, Bela's letters appears to be what is called a door-stopper. But despite the almost 600 pages, its easy to get into and easy to read and one finds the pages quickly passing by. While reading the story, I found it saddening when I looked at its meaning in a larger context and what it means for the world. My father is twelve years removed from the end date of WWII; I was born forty years after WWII is over, and my own child was born 70 years after the end of WWII. Those that have experienced the horrors of WWII are dying away and their memories of those times are being erased. Philosophically speaking, it's strange on how lessons die out and how important it is to keep them alive somehow. Its frightening to think about how we will be treated so casually by schools in the future. I do appreciate how the author tackled the subject of Holocaust as well as what it means to the European Jewry. Living in modern times, its easy to forget that people in the past don't have the benefit of prescience, which is important to remember when asking the very important "why" questions. It also was interesting to see myriad of reactions towards Judaism that the siblings exhibit after WWII; some towards embracing it, others abandoning it or even hiding it. I do feel that the characters could have been worked upon more, but other than that, a very memorable read that I plan on sharing with my child when the time will be right. Also as well, if the reader is hoping to read a book that ties everything neatly together, then this book doesn't do that, but instead its like life where questions have no answers.
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4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)