Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Behind the Ice Curtain by Dina Gabel

Title: Behind the Ice Curtain
Author: Dina Gabel
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Cis Communications
Published: 1992
Pages: 507

Rating: 5 out of 10

I neither liked nor disliked this book. I am always especially interested in reading memoirs, because I feel that they are capable of providing such interesting, realistic pictures of historical events. While a terrible detail in historical fiction may be more strikingly written, when you come across some shocking fact in a memoir, you know it's authentic, and there is something more impacting about that.

Behind the Ice Curtain is the story of Dina Shapiro, a Jewish girl who grows up during World War II. Her father is taken away and never seen again in the early days of the war, but her mother stays with her, and the two rely on each other.
Dina was lucky enough that she never experienced the true horrors of the Holocaust, though she did lose her father, her home, and her belongings. She was never in a concentration camp, but her story is still impacting, told in a sad narrative voice.

Often, I feel that Holocaust survivors have amazing stories to tell, but cannot quite word them well enough to let us really see into their experiences. This one was the opposite. Gabel is a fairly good writer, but her story was not interesting enough to carry itself through without the help of many flashback memories to keep it interesting.

There were a few vivid like pictures here - Dina faking an epileptic seizure to save herself from imprisonment, her memory of convincing her father to buy her a bicycle... There was a very sad paragraph where Dina says she collected bars of soap. They were no ordinary bars of soap, however. All stamped with a letter J, they were made of the melted down body fat of Jews who were burnt alive. Dina buys as many as she can find (26), and later buries them in a Jewish graveyard.

I never quite know how to review these memoirs, because it seems wrong somehow to pick apart and criticize the writing skills of Holocaust survivors.