Category Archives: Memoir
One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden
Zuzana Ruzicková grew up in 1930s Czechoslovakia dreaming of two things: Johann Sebastian Bach and the piano. But her peaceful, melodic childhood was torn apart when, in 1939, the Nazis invaded. Uprooted from her home, transported from Auschwitz to Hamburg to Bergen-Belsen, bereaved, starved, and afflicted with crippling injuries to her musician’s hands, the teenage Zuzana faced a series of devastating losses. Yet with every truck and train ride, a small slip of paper printed with her favourite piece of Bach’s music became her talisman.
Armed with this ‘proof that beauty still existed’, Zuzana’s fierce bravery and passion ensured her survival of the greatest human atrocities of all time, and would continue to sustain her through the brutalities of post-war Communist rule. Harnessing her talent and dedication, and fortified by the love of her husband, the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis, Zuzana went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most renowned musicians and the first harpsichordist to record the entirety of Bach’s keyboard works.
Zuzana’s story, told here in her own words before her death in 2017, is a profound and powerful testimony of the horrors of the Holocaust, and a testament in itself to the importance of amplifying the voices of its survivors today. It is also a joyful celebration of art and resistance that defined the life of the ‘first lady of the harpsichord’- a woman who spent her life being ceaselessly reborn through her music. Like the music of her beloved Bach, Zuzana’s life is the story of the tragic transmuted through art into the state of the sublime.
In 2015 I reviewed Born Survivors (Bloomsbury) by Wendy Holden which told the story of three mothers and their newborn babies survived the horrors of the Holocaust and then 65 years later the three ‘babies’ met for the first time. A powerful story that has stayed with me to this day.
Wendy Holden the author of over 30 books now has released a memoir One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival (Bloomsbury) the powerful memoir of Zuzana Ruzicková the Czech Harpsichordist who faced the horrors of the Nazis after they invaded her homeland.
It was March 1939 when the German troops arrived and soon after Zuzana and other young Jewish boys and girls were forced to act as ‘messengers’ delivering the dreadful letters that informed those families that they were to be transported away from their homes. Many already feared the worst. These letters were the final confirmation of what was to come. In October 1941 these transports to hell started and this included Zuzana and her own family. Life was never to be the same again. The family were sent to Auschwitz their fate was almost certain death and it was here that her father was murdered by the Nazis.
Zuzana and her mother survived the horror of Auschwitz only to be moved to hell that was Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. By now they were barely surviving on next to nothing and the only way to survive from one day to another was to work in the camp by moving the dead to the ovens. By doing this it meant a little more food for her and her mother. From an early age Zuzana loved music and learnt to play the piano and throughout her time in the concentration camps she kept her music alive in her head. To be free and to play again.
It was a date that would live with Zuzana for the rest of her life. 15th April 1945 she was liberated from Belsen by the British Army. At this time Zuzana only weighed around four stone. But she had survived. All through these years and through the hell and horror of Auschwitz and Belsen she carried a piece of printed music paper with favourite J.S. Bach music on it.
The war was over but the suffering was not over as she now lived under the Soviets and the Communist regime. Zuzana went back to her music studies but only as per the Soviets perspective. From the pianist she switched to playing the Harpsichord after she met Victor Kalabis who would be her future husband. Now she could learn some of her favourite Bach pieces. Following this she became famous and performed all over the world for decades to come and also recorded over 100 albums. J.S. Bach had saved her life.
Wendy Holden conducted many interviews with Zuzana Ruzicková and two weeks after her final interview Zuzana passed away never to see her memoir published. The dedication in the book reads as follows: Dedicated by Zuzana to Johann Sebastian Bach whose music reminds us there is still beauty in this world.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Books UK for the review copy of One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden
One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden was published by Bloomsbury and was published on 18th April 2019 in Hardback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson
I have an admission to make. When I started to write this review for The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson I really struggled to put the words on paper. Whatever I write it will not do justice to a memoir about nursing. This book had me crying. Yes, there were also times when it made me smile and made me laugh. One thing it really did do as if I needed to was to really appreciate the profession that is nursing and the dedication that nurses put into their daily roles.
There are personal stories of patients contained within the book that many will be moved by. Watson has one problem when she starts her training to be a nurse and that is the sight of blood. It makes her want to faint. This is something she will have to overcome. Mistakes are made along the journey to become a nurse. She manages to overcome the hurdles in training and starts to make her mark in the intensive-care wards for children and then to progress further.
There are many stories that Watson tells and throughout the book it is her quiet and gentle prose that makes this memoir really shine. Watson also rages about what is happening with the NHS of today. When we think of nurses we think of them dispensing medical care and medicines to make us better, but reading this will give you a much greater understanding. It is more than that, it is about talking and being with those who need medical care. From just assisting a patient and helping them do the basics to singing to a new born baby who sadly then sadly dies. This is pure emotion. I have nothing but admiration and pride for the nurses who work so tirelessly in our NHS. So many stories that I could share here but that would detract from the incredible memoir. Nursing is an undervalued profession but many like me believe they are all angels.
Christie Watson also wrote a novel Tiny Sunbirds Far Away that won the 2011 Costa First Novel Award. Following this Watson left nursing after two decades and decided to become a full-time writer.
What I have written here about The Language of Kindness will never do it justice. This is a book that deserves all the accolades. Lyrical and moving this is a book that I highly recommend.
Thank you Sophie Lambert at Conville & Walsh or the review copy of The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson.
The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson is published by Chatto & Windus and was published on 3rd May 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear by Lev Parikian
Men and birds, (the feathered type). What is it about why we become keen birders. I don’t just mean feeding our garden birds but actually going birding and trying to find birds in their natural habitat. Oh it does not end there, then we have lists and hi-tech bins and scopes that cost thousands not to mention cameras and then there is the lists. The birds you have seen in a calendar year. Lists for garden and your local patch and then you go chasing those very special rare birds that arrive on our shores during the Spring and Autumn. Welcome to the world of an avid birder. Yes, I have been there. Seen it and got the t-shirt. I want to introduce you to Lev Parikian. Lev is a very notable conductor and a birdwatcher. In Lev’s new book Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear (Unbound) he takes us through his story of when he was young he loved going birding and seeing new birds (or not as it transpires) and then he stopped only when he was fifty did his loves of birding return. This is his story of a year of birds, family, music and a look back through his younger days.
My library is stuffed full of bird books and stories of that writers birding year, some are really good and entertaining and some just do not cut it at all with me for a number of reasons. But Lev Parikian’s book is just that most wonderful read it is a riot of laughs and nostalgia. Starting in January 2016 this is his story of a lapsed birdwatcher aiming to see 200 birds in a year, that is REALLY seeing 200 birds in a year not ones he thinks he is seeing. Yes, Lev I have been there too.
When Lev was twelve-years-old he loved birds and birdwatching but like any keen young birder there is that urge to think you have seen a bird that in the cold light of day was not the bird you thought it was. Claiming to see a bird when actually you did not. But then after a few years and growing up the birding stopped and other things in life took over, like his love of music which in life became much more than an interest. Then of course there is cricket and girls.
There is something uniquely different about the way Lev has gone about writing about his birding year. His absolute pleasure at discovering his love of the outdoors and his love of seeing and finding birds again really shines through. But there is still that target of wanting to see 200 birds in a full calendar year. Does Lev actually achieve his target?
Sometimes seeing something really very special is something that should be shared with someone close to you. You will experience that in this glorious read. Together with Lev we travel the length and breadth of this beautiful country seeking birds in their own natural habitat. From woods to estuary and the lowlands to the highlands and a barrel of laughs along the way.
What shines through for me is the love Lev has for his family and his music and that he has found the real beauty in nature again. It is a gift for each of us to enjoy and treasure. I just loved Why Birds Suddenly Disappear and it now takes pride of place along with the very best nature books in my library. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Lev Parikian and Unbound for the review copy of Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear.
Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear is published by Unbound and was published on 17th May 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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