A REVIEW BY VERONICA JORGE
Henry Holt & Co., 2012,
First American Edition, 2017
Recently, I replaced my worn copy of Hard Times by Charles Dickens, a novel about the political and economic woes of the 19th century. Hmm. Sound familiar? He prefaces one of the themes of the novel by quoting the biblical phrase, ‘what a man sows, that he will also reap.’ The story unfolds with the ‘seeds’ that each character sows, and the consequences of what they reap.
But that’s a sermon for the pulpit.
My topic addresses the need for books. Replacing this book, and several others, required a long search to obtain the copies in the editions and hard covers I desired. Did I really need to go through so much trouble for a book? Were they worth that much to me? Yes!
Which reminded me of…you guessed it…a book; The Librarian of Auschwitz by the Spanish journalist and author Antonio Iturbe, and based on the true story of Dita Kraus, the little girl who risked her life for the sake of books.
Block 31 in the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camp houses about five hundred children and several adults named counselors. Secretly they run a school and hide a library that consists of eight books which include, A Short History of the World by H.G. Wells, a Russian grammar, and a book on analytical geometry. Not exactly essential reading or something to risk your life for, yet that is exactly what they do. Dita is entrusted to hide the books in a different place each night because these books fill their greatest need: the survival of their minds and souls.
The story examines bravery, the causes people risk their lives for, and questions the importance of books. As the author examines on page 408 of his postscript, “Books can’t be used as weapons. They can’t fill a hungry stomach or quench thirst. They can’t cure illnesses, loneliness or prejudice.”
Or can they?
The Librarian of Auschwitz, together with Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953), The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2007), ( the narrator in Zuzak’s book is Death, wow!), and the non-fiction book by historian of education Diane Ravitch, The Language Police (2003), to name a few, deserve our attention for they remind us of the importance of freedom of thought and expression. In addition, books can indeed satisfy our hunger and thirst for knowledge; they make good companions to ease loneliness; they open our minds to empathize with other cultures and curb prejudice.
Books are also weapons. To quote an often used phrase: ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ So, let’s keep on writing.
Iturbe concludes that humans can survive with just the basic necessities, but it is culture and books that make a complete person. Without them humanity dies.
See you next time on March 22nd!
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