Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Read this review, used with permission of author, of Needle in the Bone (review to be published in K.C. Jewish Chronicle).

Kansas poet laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has crafted a beautiful, moving story about the lives of two survivors of World War II, both of whom ended up at the University of Kansas where they became close friends. She interviewed both men over the course of several years. Now in Needle in the Bone, she exquisitely combines their World War experiences into a narrative that informs readers and at times brings them to tears. She also demonstrates the power of friendship and a belief in the essential goodness of people which can overcome prejudice, misconceptions, and the devastation of history.

Lou Frydman was a nine-year-old Jewish boy when the Nazis invaded Poland. When the Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated, he and his brother were sent to six concentration camps and on three death marches, miraculously surviving until they were liberated in 1945. Jarek Piekalkiewicz was descended from a well-to-do Polish family and became involved with the Polish resistance army at the age of fifteen, forming his own unit. He was captured by the Germans and sent to a POW camp from which he was eventually liberated by the US Army which took him on as a contract worker until the end of the war.

Both young men lost virtually all of their extended families during the war. Both were driven by a desire for education. Jarek went to Trinity College in Dublin. Lou went to City College of New York. Each one met a wonderful woman who became his wife. And in the end, each one became a notable scholar in his field, both teaching at the University of Kansas where they met and became close friends.

This summary does not do credit to Mirriam-Goldberg’s sensitive writing. The way she was able to blend both life stories into a seamless whole, her personal involvement with her subjects, her exhaustive research about Poland and the Holocaust during the war, and about the misconceptions of Polish anti-Semitism are truly impressive. Needle in the Bone should become required reading in any World War II or Holocaust history class. It is much more than the reminiscences of two old men. It is world history at its finest.

On January 31 at 6:00 pm the author will speak about her book at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch sponsored by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Research.

~ Andrea Kempf

Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading.

After an open arm’s length of Holocaust books, a pile that would tower over my cat of Holocaust movies, dozens of hours of interviews, and over 700 pages of transcripts from those interviews — not to mention four years of work — the Holocaust book is done……mostly, kind of, pretty much. I add those qualifiers because when writing any book, there’s never a solid completely-done place to arrive until after the book is in print, and even then, there’s usually little tweaks in the second printing and so on. Yet there is a turning point when I can say to myself, this puppy is done, and this is where I’ve arrived.

I started this book without any idea of how I would get it researched, let alone written, given my full-time gig, other obligations and everyday life raising three teens at the time. Like all books, it turned out to be much more work than I imagined, especially as I immersed myself in research on the Polish Resistance, the mechanics behind the Holocaust, German and Polish history and culture, tales of survival and liberation, and moments of horror and overwhelming loss. There were many times when I began to doubt that I could pull together all the research with all the oral histories I’d been recording into a coherent book, yet something told me to keep putting one paragraph in front of the other, one more piece of research into the pile. Last night as I corrected the formatting on endnote #204, the last one, I realized that despite the impossibility of it all, my instinct served me well.

My hope for this book is that those who read it will see not just the history of what two men — Jarek Piekalkiewicz, a Polish Resistance fighter and Lou Frydman, a Holocaust survivor — went through, but in their stories how we might better understand how to live with the enduring traumas of our history, especially those we carry within us. So while the book is done, where it may go from here is just beginning.

Pictures (from top): Some of the books and other company for the journey, and the subjects of this book: Lou and Jane Frydman, Jarek and Maura Piekalkiewicz.

The Facts of the Matter

Posted: August 18, 2011 in History, Writing

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be going through the manuscript sentence by sentence, checking little facts of history against my research and against comments Lou and Jarek have given me to make sure I’m as accurate as possible. If I think of the thousands of spinning facts filling this book — from the number of people killed overall in World War II (over 60 million) to the name of the firm Jarek’s father worked for in Poland (Brown Bovery) — my mind will turn to mass of anxiety. But if I just go page by page, looking things up, reading the little corrections the men have given me, and keeping myself adequately caffeinated and hooked up to ongoing rock music (today, Springsteen radio!), I can make it through the multitudes.

At the same time, I know how important getting these details right is, especially since one of the premises behind this book is questioning some of the larger myths about the Holocaust, such as the Jews being portrayed as helpless lambs or the Poles as angry anti-Semites. While I’ve always been a big picture kind of gal, I’m nesting down into the details of the details right now with a even more oy-vey task ahead after this: double-checking all the footnotes.

How we see the stories of our lives, as my work researching and writing Needle in the Bone keeps showing me, have everything to do with what capacity we have to make good with the materials life gives us. I recently was interviewed by Katharine Hansen’s excellent blog, A Storied Career, on the transformative power of our stories, making a living through the language arts, and how Transformative Language Arts has helped people create careers doing work they love and helping their communities find and share stories. Check the interview out, and read other interviews, articles and amazing insights on this site.

Kathy Hansen’s Blog to explore traditional and postmodern forms/uses of storytelling.