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Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts

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A stunning elegy to a vanished time, Caroline Heller’s memoir of the lives of her parents, her uncle and their circle of intellectuals and dreamers in Prague on the eve of World War II, through the present day. Caroline Heller’s unforgettable book is a memoir told in two parts. In Part I, Heller depicts the lives of her mother, father, uncle, and their close friends, who we A stunning elegy to a vanished time, Caroline Heller’s memoir of the lives of her parents, her uncle and their circle of intellectuals and dreamers in Prague on the eve of World War II, through the present day. Caroline Heller’s unforgettable book is a memoir told in two parts. In Part I, Heller depicts the lives of her mother, father, uncle, and their close friends, who were all at the center of the Jewish literary and intellectual cafe culture in Prague during the 1930’s. Heller recreates the time and place in vivid detail—the expressions and clothing, the dialogue and gestures, thoughts, and emotions; her extensive historical knowledge transformed into a gripping narrative. As Hitler’s power continues to grow, the world and culture Heller’s family and friends treasured is destroyed forever, and they are all forced to flee the country and continent. Heller’s father, however, is captured at the border and imprisoned in Buchenwald for six years: his powerful letters to Heller’s mother and uncle form the centerpiece of the book. Part II begins at Caroline’s birth, and follows her childhood and coming of age, as she struggles to understand the mysteries of her parents’ lives, and her own life’s relation to the momentous historical events that shaped her family’s story. Poignant and moving, Heller’s memoir is a family history that reimagines the possibilities of the genre, a book for anyone who ever longed to know what life was like for our family and loved ones, in a world very different from our own.


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A stunning elegy to a vanished time, Caroline Heller’s memoir of the lives of her parents, her uncle and their circle of intellectuals and dreamers in Prague on the eve of World War II, through the present day. Caroline Heller’s unforgettable book is a memoir told in two parts. In Part I, Heller depicts the lives of her mother, father, uncle, and their close friends, who we A stunning elegy to a vanished time, Caroline Heller’s memoir of the lives of her parents, her uncle and their circle of intellectuals and dreamers in Prague on the eve of World War II, through the present day. Caroline Heller’s unforgettable book is a memoir told in two parts. In Part I, Heller depicts the lives of her mother, father, uncle, and their close friends, who were all at the center of the Jewish literary and intellectual cafe culture in Prague during the 1930’s. Heller recreates the time and place in vivid detail—the expressions and clothing, the dialogue and gestures, thoughts, and emotions; her extensive historical knowledge transformed into a gripping narrative. As Hitler’s power continues to grow, the world and culture Heller’s family and friends treasured is destroyed forever, and they are all forced to flee the country and continent. Heller’s father, however, is captured at the border and imprisoned in Buchenwald for six years: his powerful letters to Heller’s mother and uncle form the centerpiece of the book. Part II begins at Caroline’s birth, and follows her childhood and coming of age, as she struggles to understand the mysteries of her parents’ lives, and her own life’s relation to the momentous historical events that shaped her family’s story. Poignant and moving, Heller’s memoir is a family history that reimagines the possibilities of the genre, a book for anyone who ever longed to know what life was like for our family and loved ones, in a world very different from our own.

30 review for Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    At the conclusion of my first lunch date with my colleague, Caroline Heller, I felt that I had met my lost sister, or soul-mate. I do not think I am unique in this observation. She is a person with soul that is obvious to everyone. I met her prior to that luncheon through reading her moving and admirable fine book, Until We Are Strong Together, about working for three years with the Tenderloin Women Writers Workshop. I had done some similar work, but this was such a passionate endorsement of wri At the conclusion of my first lunch date with my colleague, Caroline Heller, I felt that I had met my lost sister, or soul-mate. I do not think I am unique in this observation. She is a person with soul that is obvious to everyone. I met her prior to that luncheon through reading her moving and admirable fine book, Until We Are Strong Together, about working for three years with the Tenderloin Women Writers Workshop. I had done some similar work, but this was such a passionate endorsement of writing groups, maybe especially for people in great need, for the purposes of healing and taking action with others. And it’s so well written! We haven’t seen each other now in more than ten years, but I felt like she was talking to me again as I read the book. I hear an early draft of a chapter of Reading Claudius many years ago in Chicago; the focus of that chapter then as I recall was on reading as a means of survival for her Holocaust survivor parents. The book I just read is still in part about that, but it is more than that, too. In one sense it is a fairly typical survivor story, anguishing, horrific, inspiring, but it is more than that, too. Early on it is an elegant recreation, with rich fictional dimensions, of the pre-WWII Prague where her mother, Elise (Florsheim) and father, Paul, and uncle Erich lived for a time, having left Germany to study. This is a group of intellectuals—readers, talkers, connected to a wide group of friends and books and ideas they talk about all the time; the life of the mind comes alive here admirably. Early on, Elise pursued Erich and they were a sort of couple for a few years, but it didn’t work out, as Paul pined privately for Elise. The writing and creation of Prague is the best writing in the book. There’s a middle section featuring wrenching excerpts from mainly Paul’s letters and writings on how he survived 6 years in concentration camps to give a tour of his camp to American journalist Edward Murrow. The third section is in America, where we transition back to a reading and scholarly life here. There’s some revelations: Paul and Elise do get together, Uncle Erich is gay, and Caroline and her brother are born. Erich’s friend Hannah Arndt comes to hang out a few times in Evanston. There’s a lot of famous people, these Hellers know and for (sometimes) scholarly readers like me, there are a few wow name-dropping moments. Books get read, lives get shaped, it’s how we live. And finally we have reflections from Caroline about being the child of Holocaust survivors, about surviving with and for them. This is a beautiful memoir, and important as anti-semitism escalates once again here in the US and elsewhere. We need these stories to remind us of the horrors that are always happening, and for the importance of family and books as humane means to work against those horrors. Some surviving photographs, once buried in the ground, to help you see what happens when people act on behalf of some ill-advised political gain. Never again. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/i...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Esil

    Reading Claudius is a memoir told in two distinct parts. In the first part, the author -- Caroline Heller -- recounts her parents' history. Her mother Liesel, a German Jew escaped from Germany to Prague in 1933, and then from Prague to the U.S. in 1939. Her father, who was from Prague, spent over 4 years in concentration camps, after which he was able to to join Liesel in the U.S. Interestingly, the author doesn't focus on the horrors experienced by her parents but more on what they lost -- in P Reading Claudius is a memoir told in two distinct parts. In the first part, the author -- Caroline Heller -- recounts her parents' history. Her mother Liesel, a German Jew escaped from Germany to Prague in 1933, and then from Prague to the U.S. in 1939. Her father, who was from Prague, spent over 4 years in concentration camps, after which he was able to to join Liesel in the U.S. Interestingly, the author doesn't focus on the horrors experienced by her parents but more on what they lost -- in Prague they were part of a tight circle of young interested and engaged scholars, and slowly and then suddenly their world built on ideas and ideals collapsed. In the second part, the author focuses on the impact of her parents's experience on her own life in the U.S. For many years, she did not know that she was even Jewish or anything about her parents' history, but in retrospect she understands that their past shaped her life. And while their past is sad and horrific, its impact on Caroline is more nuanced. Her parents' history gave her a sense of the importance of love, family, resilience, pretending that things will get better until they do, and a passion for books and ideas. Indeed, books and the connection they created with her new friends in Prague is what appears to have kept Liesel and her circle sane in Prague, and later in life Caroline as she found her path forward. And for lovers of books like me, this alone is a reason to appreciate Reading Claudius. There's been so much written about the holocaust and its aftermath, that it may be hard for another book to gain traction. What made this book worth reading for me was that it felt very personal and real. Caroline's deep respect and love for her parents really shone through without being overly sentimental. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy of Reading Claudius.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts is Caroline Heller's recreation of the world in which her parents first met in Prague in 1933, moving through their student years, the heady college years and political thoughts of the time. Then moving to the inevitable strengthening of Nazism in Germany and it's threat to surrounding countries. This threat would have consequences for all the young people living in Prague. Heller is able to recreate these years through interviews with her family, their fr Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts is Caroline Heller's recreation of the world in which her parents first met in Prague in 1933, moving through their student years, the heady college years and political thoughts of the time. Then moving to the inevitable strengthening of Nazism in Germany and it's threat to surrounding countries. This threat would have consequences for all the young people living in Prague. Heller is able to recreate these years through interviews with her family, their friends and others who were there as well as using letters and other source materials. She also explains her methods in both an introduction and in Source Notes for each chapter. The second half of the book presents those years where Caroline was herself part of the story, where the child of the survivors is trying to fathom what her family really is and is about. She speaks, ultimately, for her parents and for herself as she learns of the past. This book introduced me to another aspect of World War II, the War in Czechoslovakia, and aspects of the intellectual life there prior to the Nazi takeover. It is both exciting and terribly sad to read, but also, I believe, important. As we see young (and older) people like this being "disappeared" in other places in the world today, we must continue to remember that we have to be vigilant in their behalf. Highly recommended A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Caren

    I knew I wanted to read this book after seeing the review from my Goodreads acquaintance, Esil, and seeing that much of it was set in 1930s Prague, a city dear to my heart. I lived and breathed these characters for a week, anxious to hurry back to them to see what happened next. This may make the book sound like a novel, but it is actually the story of the author's parents, who lived through the Holocaust. The author's mother, Liese, a German Jew, was sent by her parents to Prague to attend medi I knew I wanted to read this book after seeing the review from my Goodreads acquaintance, Esil, and seeing that much of it was set in 1930s Prague, a city dear to my heart. I lived and breathed these characters for a week, anxious to hurry back to them to see what happened next. This may make the book sound like a novel, but it is actually the story of the author's parents, who lived through the Holocaust. The author's mother, Liese, a German Jew, was sent by her parents to Prague to attend medical school, and to get her out of Germany as Hitler's directives became more ominous. Her brother followed not long after. Liese soon met a group of other young students and intellectuals who formed a close circle. Two Czech brothers, Erich and Paul, were a part of that group. Erich, the older brother, was handsome, smart, politically active, and outgoing. He was one of the leaders of their group. Erich quickly attached himself to Liese and the two became a couple. Meanwhile, the younger brother, Paul, who was quiet, serious, and studious, loved Liese too, but buried himself in his medical school work as his brother took the spotlight---and the girl. Does this sound like a novel yet? I remind you: these were real people, real events. Through the '30s, as Hitler became more brazen, members of this group of students began to emigrate. The group dissolved as more and more young people fled. Now, the reader knows from the beginning of the book that the author's parents were named Liese (later, Alice) and Paul, but how did they survive and end up together? That is the story this book tells. The book's subtitle is "A Memoir in Two Parts" and the second part is the author's own story. How did her parents' Central European youth and the subsequent dissolution of their world affect the author, who was raised in an intellectual, middle-class, secular family in Illinois? This book is so rich and engrossing on many levels. I kept thinking about how difficult it would be to recreate the world of one's parents, even had they lived a very ordinary life, not one fraught with danger and sorrow. How would I go back and find out exactly how my parents lived, even though I have lived in the very same city they did all of my life? Really, this author has created a beautiful testament to a family's love, a love that survived so many trials. The author had her own trials, but you will read of them yourself. I recommend this book without reservation. The author, who is a professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, spent at least a decade gathering information and crafting the story of her family's life. That time and care shine through; the book is thoughtful and beautifully written. Here is a professional review: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books... Just to get you in the mood, here is a little window on Prague (which is such a timeless city, it must have looked very like this in the 1930s too): http://www.praguewebcam.com/

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    "Shortly after the death of my father in 2001, I felt compelled to craft my family's story into words on the page. Initially, I tried writing the chapters out of chronological sequence. These would be the 'easier' chapters, I thought. As fallible as memory is, at least I was there, a witnessing narrator, already part of the story. From the very beginning of embarking on the research that led to Reading Claudus, I agonized over how I would write about events that took place before I was born..." S "Shortly after the death of my father in 2001, I felt compelled to craft my family's story into words on the page. Initially, I tried writing the chapters out of chronological sequence. These would be the 'easier' chapters, I thought. As fallible as memory is, at least I was there, a witnessing narrator, already part of the story. From the very beginning of embarking on the research that led to Reading Claudus, I agonized over how I would write about events that took place before I was born..." So begins the foreword of Reading Claudus, a sober, sobering, eloquent address of building a literary relationship to an actual past and present lifetime--one that can never be accessed in its entirety. Her family history can't be whole, but what can it be? A kind of witnessing, an argument, a conversation, a documentary melting into necessary art. Heller quotes W. G. Sebald, Alice Munro, Delmore Schwartz, Hannah Arendt (a friend of her father's brother, who's story is quite a part of hers) as they talk about the fallible processes of narrating history and exploring memory. In the prologue, the author offers a short reflection on growing up with a particular relationship to memory and selfhood as a person whose Jewish European immigrant parents survived the Holocaust but in many ways are still fighting for their lives. The persecution has not ended, not only because anti-Semitism is far from over, but because the trauma of the war is alive in their home and unacknowledged and therefore insidious in its effects. Heller has become a survivor herself, and an exquisitely perceptive sleuth--there are mysterious forces keeping her family together and yet trying to pull them apart. She longs to understand and puts her perceptive powers to the task, but the culture of the family is one in which direct questions are prohibited and so, to a large degree, she is overwhelmed by the invisible mythologies and fears she cannot name. "They'd filled our house with symbols of intellectual curiosity and openness--shelves crammed with books, including the old tattered ones they'd managed to take out of Europe, heady progressive journals and program notes from concerts, lectures, and plays. But that openness and curiosity had limits. However it had been forged, there was a tacit family agreement not to ask certain questions...Little by little, without our noticing, tiptoeing became our natural gait." Forced forgetting always tinged with the trauma of lived and living memory. A tenseness of fear and the desire to control what is spoken and not spoken, known and not know. A desire to be seen and absented, to protect one's boundaries by becoming invisible within them. How then did Heller write this book? Well, she became an adult and over time came to understand her trauma and her family's predicament. Meanwhile, there was a cultural change in the later '70s "...when Holocaust testimonies were more welcomed into public discourse in the United States..." Heller's parent spoke more openly and Heller collected their oral histories and spent years looking through archives and doing interviews. She collects the puzzle pieces of her parents' younger years. "In what follows, I try to give that past coherence as a story. "They were young people finding their way in life, but when I try to imagine them then, they feel as old as Europe itself." And here begins the "main" sections of the book. It's broken into two parts. 1) "The Subjective In-Between", about her parents and uncle's lives before and during the war. And 2) "The Unthought Known", a meditation on her life as the child of Holocaust survivors. Each section has its own tone and music. It is, in a way, the bringing together of two very different books that comment on, support and revise each other, hold each other in a perfectly imperfect and loving embrace. The damage of the past cannot be undone, but it can be teased out into strands and turned into a soulful instrument that tells, again and again of an Odyssey as specific and timeless as the Homeric one she reads with her brother. The narrative and reflective modes are graceful and beautiful and while I would appreciate this book regardless of the era, this is a particularly important time, I think, to consider the way we carry our pasts into the present moment, and search for meaning and integrity in the process. Thank you David for the recommendation!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ei Ball

    I heard Caroline Heller give a reading last night in Wellfleet and was inspired to write more of a review. I read this book in early August, and I could not put it down. The author manages to bring us so completely into the story that you hear the sound of her father turning the pages, the smells/lighting of the Prague Cafe, the feel and look of the lake's water as Paul swims. I've looked at the other reviews as well as the Globe review that Caren attached. I will avoid being redundant. I came b I heard Caroline Heller give a reading last night in Wellfleet and was inspired to write more of a review. I read this book in early August, and I could not put it down. The author manages to bring us so completely into the story that you hear the sound of her father turning the pages, the smells/lighting of the Prague Cafe, the feel and look of the lake's water as Paul swims. I've looked at the other reviews as well as the Globe review that Caren attached. I will avoid being redundant. I came back from last night's reading and felt compelled to say more about this author and her book. This book is about a lost time and a list era. Nearly all the WW2 characters have died, but Heller brings their experiences to life. If you have the chance to hear her read, it is more than a reading. I have rarely seen someone field and respond to questions and comments in such a thoughtful and compelling way. Off the charts. I hear she has other talks scheduled into fall. Read the book and hear her talk if it, or get to the talk--you will devour this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Donna G.

    I can't stop thinking about this book. It's a memoir but, that does not negate the fact that Caroline Heller is a fantastic story teller. She has the gift to take you through an historical event and make it personal to you where you feel you know the characters, form opinions about them, have feelings for them... It's a journey that Caroline takes you through on a gentle roller coaster ride of emotion. Totally impressed with how she pulled this all together. Her use of letters and diary excerpts I can't stop thinking about this book. It's a memoir but, that does not negate the fact that Caroline Heller is a fantastic story teller. She has the gift to take you through an historical event and make it personal to you where you feel you know the characters, form opinions about them, have feelings for them... It's a journey that Caroline takes you through on a gentle roller coaster ride of emotion. Totally impressed with how she pulled this all together. Her use of letters and diary excerpts is just brilliant. Please read and see for yourself!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Demetria Iazzetto

    I couldn't put it down. Reading Claudius is brave, brillant and beautifully written. Coming to terms with one's family and their disturbing truths of surviving the holocaust could not have been an easy journey. I am so very happy she has shared the complexity of their lives and hers--with all of her readers! I couldn't put it down. Reading Claudius is brave, brillant and beautifully written. Coming to terms with one's family and their disturbing truths of surviving the holocaust could not have been an easy journey. I am so very happy she has shared the complexity of their lives and hers--with all of her readers!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Njd123

    I loved READING CLAUDIUS! In Reading Claudius, Heller recreates her parents' journey from the cafe/salon life of culture, literature, and love in pre-war Prague, through the war years in Germany, and forward to their post-war family lives in the US. The narrative, which flows like a well-paced novel, is built on a solid foundation of letters, diaries, and interviews. Literary, cultural and philosophical themes are woven skillfully throughout this gripping story. I have read a lot about the Holoca I loved READING CLAUDIUS! In Reading Claudius, Heller recreates her parents' journey from the cafe/salon life of culture, literature, and love in pre-war Prague, through the war years in Germany, and forward to their post-war family lives in the US. The narrative, which flows like a well-paced novel, is built on a solid foundation of letters, diaries, and interviews. Literary, cultural and philosophical themes are woven skillfully throughout this gripping story. I have read a lot about the Holocaust and WWII, but never have I had such a clear and intimate look at the life and culture of the pre-war intellectual communities such as this one in Prague. As "A Memoir in Two Parts", the book also includes Heller's own intimate story as the daughter of Holocaust survivors coming of age in suburban Chicago in the 1950's and 60's. Besides being a wonderful book to read (I couldn't put it down), Reading Claudius is an important book that captures a moment in history that is now gone, but that we must not forget.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lorette

    I am gobsmacked by this book. The first part of this memoir tells the story of Erich and Paul Heller, brothers, who in their individual ways, take up with Liesel Florsheim, members of a group of young intellectuals in Prague during the rise of Hitler in Germany. The group is soon splintered, as World War II fractures Europe; Erich goes to London, Liesel escapes to America, and Paul is captured by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camps. He suffers tremendously and is miraculously at Buchen I am gobsmacked by this book. The first part of this memoir tells the story of Erich and Paul Heller, brothers, who in their individual ways, take up with Liesel Florsheim, members of a group of young intellectuals in Prague during the rise of Hitler in Germany. The group is soon splintered, as World War II fractures Europe; Erich goes to London, Liesel escapes to America, and Paul is captured by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camps. He suffers tremendously and is miraculously at Buchenwald when it is liberated. He makes his way to America, and eventually marries Liesel. The second half of the memoir is told from Caroline's point of view, who is Liesel and Paul's daughter. Heller's research methods are amazing and the bravery, compassion, and fidelity she shows towards authentic, honest writing as well as to her subjects (who are, after all, her family) is all to be admired.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Judith Cohen

    This memoir in two parts describes the author’s parents lives in Prague just before WW2. It is so vividly imagined that we can almost smell and taste the cafes, apts and classrooms where these young people drank with friends, discussed literature and politics and worried about the Nazis getting closer, while hoping that Czechoslovakia would be safe. We follow three people, the Heller brothers, Erich, a writer and Paul, a medical student, his younger brother who will become the author’s father, a This memoir in two parts describes the author’s parents lives in Prague just before WW2. It is so vividly imagined that we can almost smell and taste the cafes, apts and classrooms where these young people drank with friends, discussed literature and politics and worried about the Nazis getting closer, while hoping that Czechoslovakia would be safe. We follow three people, the Heller brothers, Erich, a writer and Paul, a medical student, his younger brother who will become the author’s father, as well as Liese, the young woman they both love, who will be Caroline’s mother. Though Liese and Erich both make it out before the Nazis take over, Paul spends years in a concentration camp before he is liberated and slowly makes his way to the US. Though I have long had intellectual knowledge of this historical horror, not until I read this book did it become visceral for me. In the second part, Caroline explores growing up with her parents and brother near Chicago; how her lack of conscious knowledge of her parents’ war experiences impacted her and how she slowly came to know the details. In her lovely descriptive writing, she paints tender but unsentimental portraits of her parents, her uncle and her own development.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Myn

    A deep and moving memoir about the lives of Heller's parents and her father’s brother when they were university students in Prague as the Holocaust was moving in and, later, in America, after they had each left Europe and found their way to the Midwest. The author creates the heady and carefree world of these intellectual young people, studying medicine and passionately reading German poets—Rilke, Goethe, and Claudius. She follows them through the difficulties and tragedies that unfold in Europe A deep and moving memoir about the lives of Heller's parents and her father’s brother when they were university students in Prague as the Holocaust was moving in and, later, in America, after they had each left Europe and found their way to the Midwest. The author creates the heady and carefree world of these intellectual young people, studying medicine and passionately reading German poets—Rilke, Goethe, and Claudius. She follows them through the difficulties and tragedies that unfold in Europe — and through their lives in the United States. She also chronicles — with courageous honesty — her efforts to understand her own life growing up in the shadow of all that happened during that very terrible time. This is a profoundly personal reconciliation of her relationship to the three people whose lives most mattered to her and to each other. Highly recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Philip Griffith

    Not only do we hear the gripping story of Heller’s parents’ and uncle’s life in pre¬-war Prague and their journey out of Europe, but we are also treated to the literary currents that fed German and Czech intellectuals of the time. I came away wanting to revisit the literature I had only sampled in my own college days--Goethe, Mann, Neitzche, Kafka, Arrendt—and to find the English translations of the German poet Claudius. Rare is the book that can hold me with the story, enchant me with the beaut Not only do we hear the gripping story of Heller’s parents’ and uncle’s life in pre¬-war Prague and their journey out of Europe, but we are also treated to the literary currents that fed German and Czech intellectuals of the time. I came away wanting to revisit the literature I had only sampled in my own college days--Goethe, Mann, Neitzche, Kafka, Arrendt—and to find the English translations of the German poet Claudius. Rare is the book that can hold me with the story, enchant me with the beauty of its telling and inspire me to dive into the sources that spawned it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marjorie Ball

    Loved it. A tribute to love and the strength of the human character. Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts Loved it. A tribute to love and the strength of the human character. Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joan B

    A brilliantly written memoir of Heller’s parents’ history, Jewish students living in an intellectual and cultural Prague, pre-WWII, their stories - then bridging to her own memories of growing up with these emotionally injured individuals — an intelligent and important book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Heart wrenching, vivid, important.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leah K

    Reading Claudius by Caroline Heller 296 pages ★★★★ This book is subtitled as a memoir in two parts. In the first two-thirds of the book, Caroline Heller tells the story of her parents, uncle and their friends in pre-war Czechoslovakia and also what would happen to them during and after the war. In the last one-third of the book we hear about Caroline’s life with her parents up until 2001, with the death of her father near. Sometimes I like to randomly pick up books at the library. I don’t really r Reading Claudius by Caroline Heller 296 pages ★★★★ This book is subtitled as a memoir in two parts. In the first two-thirds of the book, Caroline Heller tells the story of her parents, uncle and their friends in pre-war Czechoslovakia and also what would happen to them during and after the war. In the last one-third of the book we hear about Caroline’s life with her parents up until 2001, with the death of her father near. Sometimes I like to randomly pick up books at the library. I don’t really read what the book is about, I often know nothing of the author, I pretty much go with “nice title, nice cover, let’s try it” figuring worse case I don’t like it and return it to the library with no harm done. This is one of those books. And you know what’s great? When one of those random books just sweeps you away. This book was really fantastic. It was really beautifully written and it felt so much like a novel than the lives of actual people. The author goes through a lot of research to get her family’s story straight from interviews with family and friends, articles, letters through the years, etc. In the back of the book she goes through how she got the information chapter by chapter because honestly, if you didn’t know how she got her info, you’d assume some of this couldn’t possibly be real. This is one I had trouble putting down at night, I just wanted to know what was going to happen to the Heller family. Caroline is very honest with her own life and what it was like to live with Holocaust survivors. Wonderfully written and a quick read. Glad I found the random gem at the library.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cc

    Caroline Heller’s stunning prose draws us into the intellectual circle of Liese, Paul, and Erich (her parents and uncle) in pre-WWII Central Europe. We observe their resilience as well as their vulnerability in the midst of the Third Reich’s dismantling of social institutions and norms. Liese’s journey to America, Paul’s suffering in Buchenwald, and their reunion and rebuilding of their lives in the United States are recounted with journalistic precision, allowing the reader to absorb and respon Caroline Heller’s stunning prose draws us into the intellectual circle of Liese, Paul, and Erich (her parents and uncle) in pre-WWII Central Europe. We observe their resilience as well as their vulnerability in the midst of the Third Reich’s dismantling of social institutions and norms. Liese’s journey to America, Paul’s suffering in Buchenwald, and their reunion and rebuilding of their lives in the United States are recounted with journalistic precision, allowing the reader to absorb and respond to the narrative rather than being force-fed conclusions. Heller’s deft hand continues in the second half of the book as she and her brother come onto the scene, Uncle Erich reemerges, and Liese and Paul age and pass. The unifying thread throughout the years is the family’s deep appreciation of literature and critical thinking. Reading Claudius holds appeal for the memoir-lover, WWII buff, and appreciator of eloquent writing. Read it as soon as you can. And then read it again.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    I heard Caroline Heller read from Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts at the Iowa City Book Festival last fall. This book is a beautiful love letter to her parents. The first two thirds of the book, she tells the story of her Jewish parents as they survived WWII including her mother's narrow escape to the United States and her father's time in a concentration camp. The last third of the book centers around her life with her parents and how their experience impacted them as parents and impact I heard Caroline Heller read from Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts at the Iowa City Book Festival last fall. This book is a beautiful love letter to her parents. The first two thirds of the book, she tells the story of her Jewish parents as they survived WWII including her mother's narrow escape to the United States and her father's time in a concentration camp. The last third of the book centers around her life with her parents and how their experience impacted them as parents and impacted her as the child of Holocaust survivors. Through the stories her mother told her and the letters of correspondence she has between her parents and their friends she is able to recreate their stories in beautiful detail. No story about WWII is easy, but through the terror, she tells a story full of love and beauty. And though I met her, had my book signed by her, and even stood in a bathroom line with her, I wish I could meet her again just to say thank you.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This is a remarkable book. It tells the story of the author, Caroline Heller's family. Her father, Paul Heller, survived six years in Nazi concentration camps — Buchenwald and Auschwitz. The book traces the prewar period in Prague, a vibrant intellectual and cultural environment. Caroline’s father, uncle and mother were young students in Prague at this time and Caroline tells of their loves, political discussions and love of Germany and German literature. The second part of the book tells us abo This is a remarkable book. It tells the story of the author, Caroline Heller's family. Her father, Paul Heller, survived six years in Nazi concentration camps — Buchenwald and Auschwitz. The book traces the prewar period in Prague, a vibrant intellectual and cultural environment. Caroline’s father, uncle and mother were young students in Prague at this time and Caroline tells of their loves, political discussions and love of Germany and German literature. The second part of the book tells us about Caroline’s perspective. Growing up in a Chicago suburb, knowing on every level that there is a deep family secret effecting every aspect of the family life. She tells of the unfolding of this secret and the struggle in the family to deal with this new life here in America. This book is beautifully written and I highly recommend it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Hush

    Heller has written a wonderfully contemplative memoir that will make every reader identify with her story and applaud Heller for having the courage and grace to write it. But above all, it is Heller’s courage to explore her past that sets her free, and that as a reader, makes us not want to put this book down until the very last page; and, even then, the reader is left wanting more, more of Heller’s craft, more of her wit, more of her story. Reading Claudius is a book that you will never forget Heller has written a wonderfully contemplative memoir that will make every reader identify with her story and applaud Heller for having the courage and grace to write it. But above all, it is Heller’s courage to explore her past that sets her free, and that as a reader, makes us not want to put this book down until the very last page; and, even then, the reader is left wanting more, more of Heller’s craft, more of her wit, more of her story. Reading Claudius is a book that you will never forget and one that you will want to read over and over again.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Sayre

    I loved this book. Writing her memoir in two parts was brilliant; it really rounded out the story so we could see the characters from several dimensions. The author's depiction of her father was tender, truthful, realistic and sympathetic all at the same time. I also appreciated the thoughtful introduction in which Heller explains how she decided to use dialog to recreate the past. A wonderful memoir; highly recommended. I loved this book. Writing her memoir in two parts was brilliant; it really rounded out the story so we could see the characters from several dimensions. The author's depiction of her father was tender, truthful, realistic and sympathetic all at the same time. I also appreciated the thoughtful introduction in which Heller explains how she decided to use dialog to recreate the past. A wonderful memoir; highly recommended.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    This was a fascinating book which I would highly recommend. You are transported to pre-WW11 Czech. The relationships between the friends and eventually lovers and spouses. Then add in the life of the author and how she grew up with the experiences that her parents had molding their lives. I would highly recommend!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mandi

    Beautiful and heart wrenching memoir that not only explores the history of the author's parents and uncle as Jews during the holocaust(which reads so smoothly it's easy to forget that it's not fiction) but also gives us a glimpse into the life for the next generation of Jews living in the wake of the horror. Beautiful and heart wrenching memoir that not only explores the history of the author's parents and uncle as Jews during the holocaust(which reads so smoothly it's easy to forget that it's not fiction) but also gives us a glimpse into the life for the next generation of Jews living in the wake of the horror.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    This book is amazing on so many levels. The writing is exquisite and the research and portrayal of a time prior to WWII is amazing. Writing a memoir of your parents and a time when you were not alive is a huge task and so well done. I am in awe of this writer and her book. It is a top read for me this year.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Welugewe Aningo

    The reconstruction of times and places were convincing. Tragic, dramatic and free. I would recommend this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bryn (Plus Others)

    I hate that the very best books that I read always leave me at a loss for words. This is a marvelous piece of work, both memoir of a childhood and a lyrical, emotional recreation of a lost world, written with care and kindness and courage. Heller's recreation of her parent's Prague is beautiful; I applaud her for being unafraid to invent concrete details of smell and sound and and taste to fill out the memories her parents shared. I fell in love with her Prague and with Liese and Paul and their I hate that the very best books that I read always leave me at a loss for words. This is a marvelous piece of work, both memoir of a childhood and a lyrical, emotional recreation of a lost world, written with care and kindness and courage. Heller's recreation of her parent's Prague is beautiful; I applaud her for being unafraid to invent concrete details of smell and sound and and taste to fill out the memories her parents shared. I fell in love with her Prague and with Liese and Paul and their circle of friends, and I put the book down with a sympathetic grief for all that they lost and my own small sorrow that I (of course) could never know them, nor Heller herself, who comes across as someone well worth knowing. The second half surprised me, in that (view spoiler)[I expected more of an emphasis upon her discoveries, a story of increasing revelation as she realises what was hidden behind her parents' silences. But it is, I think, a stronger work without that; the reader already knows, and the drama is not that Caroline discovered, but that her parents lived through it and then kept silence and then, somehow, began to speak before their stories were lost. (hide spoiler)] I found it also very powerful, seeing the fictional recreation of her parents as young people, and then her own view of them at the ends of their lives, and feeling the line between it and the -- well, the human condition, I cannot find any better words for it, that we are all young and if we are lucky we get to be old as well, and that our children rarely know our young selves, only the older ones. I found this book by pure serendipity and it is, I think, the best non-fiction I have read this year.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Garnette

    In 1933, Liese Florsheim, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany, enrolled in Charles University in Prague. There she met Paul Heller and his brother Erich, amid a group of students fervently engaged in literary criticism and political debate. The book is filled with references to German literature, particularly to the poet Matthias Claudius. As the war spread across Europe, these friends and their families scattered across the globe, some to find refuge in Britain or the U.S., some to disappear In 1933, Liese Florsheim, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany, enrolled in Charles University in Prague. There she met Paul Heller and his brother Erich, amid a group of students fervently engaged in literary criticism and political debate. The book is filled with references to German literature, particularly to the poet Matthias Claudius. As the war spread across Europe, these friends and their families scattered across the globe, some to find refuge in Britain or the U.S., some to disappear into the camps. Caroline Heller grew up in a home where no one spoke of the past, keeping silent about both private issues within the family as well as the tragedies of the Holocaust. The more I read abut the Holocaust, the more I realize that each country, each family, each individual has their own separate story. It was not a tragedy but millions of individual tragedies. For Caroline, bringing her family’s stories to light was part of a healing process. Yet, this combination family history and memoir is written in an objective, unemotional tone, more as a historian or journalist than as an active participant in many of these events. Well worth reading.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sharondblk

    I'd probably give this a 3.5, I'm a bit undecided. I loved the first part, which is a story of refugees. We very often see holocaust stories, but it was fascinating to read this other experience, one the was shared by all four of my grandparents. The book then turns epistolary for a short while, which seems odd, but that might be because of the source material available to the author. The final part is the authors own experience, or rather her fathers experience through her eyes. It's slightly un I'd probably give this a 3.5, I'm a bit undecided. I loved the first part, which is a story of refugees. We very often see holocaust stories, but it was fascinating to read this other experience, one the was shared by all four of my grandparents. The book then turns epistolary for a short while, which seems odd, but that might be because of the source material available to the author. The final part is the authors own experience, or rather her fathers experience through her eyes. It's slightly unsatisfying, as Caroline relates various incidents around her father. Its a bit episodic. Generally i would recommend this book. She writes well, and in the first part of the book has a confident narrative tone.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Angela Woodward

    I don't know how I found this book, and I thought it had something to do with I, Claudius or with Hannah Arendt. It is in fact a beautiful memoir of the author's parents and uncle, Jews fleeing Prague and Hitler. I was stunned by the specificity of the world Heller imagines for her parents. Extensive notes at the end make clear that she had good sources for all the facts. Her prose transforms notes, letters, tapes, and interviews into a moving narrative that captures her family members' inner li I don't know how I found this book, and I thought it had something to do with I, Claudius or with Hannah Arendt. It is in fact a beautiful memoir of the author's parents and uncle, Jews fleeing Prague and Hitler. I was stunned by the specificity of the world Heller imagines for her parents. Extensive notes at the end make clear that she had good sources for all the facts. Her prose transforms notes, letters, tapes, and interviews into a moving narrative that captures her family members' inner lives as well as their adventures.

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