Book Review, “The Choice” by Edith Eger.

“The Choice” by Edith Eger was recommended to me by Elouise Reinich Fraser on her blog, Telling the Truth which I have followed for some years.

So I knew it would be worth reading and immediately ordered a copy. As soon as it arrived, I was delving into it, unwilling to get on my usual daily round: always a good sign.

“The Choice” recounts in careful detail the story of Edith’s life, from her youth until the time when, as a precocious and talented seventeen year old gymnast, she was transported to Auschwitz extermination camp along with the rest of her family – her mother, father and elder sister, her other sister having escaped to Budapest where she managed to survive until the end of the war – and faced extreme privation, forced labour and death marches before she and her sister were liberated by a soldier from a unit of the 71st Infantry of the US army. Unable to move or call attention to their survival in the midst of a scene of carnage and devastation, her elder sister held up a sardine can, the steel of which reflected the sun, calling attention to where they lay, covered in bodies on the ground.

This is not only the story of two women’s survival against enormous odds. Time and again, Edith demonstrates the importance of small acts of kindness, of social bonds, and the value of small coincidences in ensuring our survival and to give meaning to our lives. For example, if she and her sister had been able to open the sardine can – offered as emergency rations but without the tin opener that would have made it possible – they probably would not have been able to use it to signal for help. While reading this account of a life I am constantly reminded, in ways that restore my faith in the value of small things, that sometimes life hinges on the smallest unexpected details.

Edith and her elder sister survive, and, by one of many twists and turns that so surprise, are reunited with their sister at the home they shared before the war disrupted their lives. The struggles that the girls later endure to get back to some kind of normal, make a fascinating study, from which we can all learn a great deal, about fortitude, faith and the value of forgiveness.

This book is certainly worth reading and re-reading. I have read many books written by survivors of the extermination camps and have always felt myself indebted to the examples of peace, reconciliation and fortitude that these offer. There is something poignant, too, in the example of a nonagenarian mother and great grandmother who has had so many lessons to learn from, and who so willingly shares these with her readers. The ultimate lesson – and where the book gets its name – is well worth learning from too.

Very highly recommended.

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