The Neighbor from Bergen Belsen by Yaakov Barzilai

The Neighbor from Bergen BelsenThe Neighbor from Bergen Belsen by Yaakov Barzilai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Pointless changing position, since every bullet has an address written on it.”...

The Neighbor from Bergen Belsen by Yaakov Barzilai is a biography based on the authors life as Jewish Holocaust survivor. This wonderfully written and richly descriptive narrative is an all-encompassing human dramatization about ‘the unyielding love of a mother, who fought to protect her two young children from harm while helping every stranger who crossed her path, about belief in God, and the naïve perspective of a child in such a difficult and challenging time.’

The Neighbor from Bergen Belsen is beautifully written and exquisitely translated from the Hebrew by Philip Simpson. The author creates vivid word pictures that pulls the reader into the narrative. For such a sad story, it's extraordinarily moving and powerful.

One of many such examples for me is as follows: ‘‘Trains were dispatched with the regularity of volcanic eruptions. To each locomotive, at least two dozen livestock wagons were hitched, and in each wagon around a hundred head of cattle were crammed for their journey to the abattoir. I was one of them We were the first to be thrown into the mobile prison, which had three blank walls and a narrow barred window located near the top of the fourth, a necessary precaution to ensure delivery of a whole and healthy consignment. As we enjoyed the privilege of fist arrival, we naturally gravitated towards the one wall-panel boasting an aperture. My parents sank down on the floor of the wagon and I stood with my back to the perforated wall. My little sister, who had never travelled by train before, was beaming with excitement. Lack of space meant that she had to stand on my feet, her arms around me and her hands clutching my braces from behind. Loading of the wagon continued until the chorus of the buttons began. As more and more were pressed inside, the buttons of their clothing collided, producing a sound reminiscent of the clinking of glasses in a convivial toast, and it was only then that the loaders realized there wasn’t so much as a hair’s breadth of standing room remaining, and the heavy door was slammed shut and bolted from the outside with a massive iron bar.’

The imagery in the writing style is flawless and gives the reader a clear sense of actually being there in the moment with the author. Very rarely does a book arrive that grabs its readers by the scruff of their neck and puts them down in their armchair and commands not to leave your seat until you have devoured all the pages. This is one such book.

If anyone ever wanted to understand what effects a war has on the human spirit without going down the docudrama way, this book is a must buy. It is guaranteed to add another facet to the lives of everyone that reads it, touching them in a manner few other books could. You get a poignant, moving story that's somehow heartbreaking and triumphant all at the same time.

The Neighbor from Bergen Belsen has many examples of love, kindness and self-sacrifice but also deals with horrific abuse and suffering. The best storytellers could not devise a more compelling narrative. It’s one of those books that will leave a lump in the throat of the most hardened reader. Highly recommended. I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

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