July 25, 2014

Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

I was born and raised in Hungary in a small city called Beregszasz, but some of the most vivid memories of my childhood are of my grandmother, Babi, on her farm. [...] Meaningful childhood memories can last a lifetime- here are stories inspired by some of my visits with Babi.
-from Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

One of my favorite children's novels is Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary by Aranka Siegal; it chronicles Siegal's real life experience during the Holocaust, leading up to her captivity in a concentration camp. In the sequel, Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation, Siegal explains her life post-World War II, integrating back into everyday life after experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. While it can easily be read as a stand alone, Memories of Babi, is best appreciated as a prequel to Siegal's two original novels as they bring life and history to the characters that is not afforded in the length of this book of stories.

Each chapter in Memories of Babi contains a story that reads like a fable with a lesson main character Piri (Siegal with a different name) learns from life with her grandmother, Babi, on Babi's farm. Piri learns lessons in hard work, compassion, honesty, and tradition which all help her maintain her sense of identity and compassion once faced with the atrocities of the Holocaust.

My favorite story was titled The Beggar Woman, in which Piri and Babi take care of Bracha, a beggar woman in town, when nobody else would help her. Babi grew up with Bracha and explains to Piri that she befriended Bracha as a child because others were cruel to her. When Piri asks whether or not the other children would play with Babi after she befriended Bracha, Babi replies, "Some did and some did not, but it didn't bother me. The ones that were so mean to her were not worth bothering about. Why would I want such mean friends?" I found this to be great foreshadowing for Piri's experience with the Holocaust.

Because I had already read Aranka Siegal's two autobiographical novels I knew what Piri would experience and how it would affect her; I knew the type of child she was and the adult she would become. The stories in Memories of Babi are part of the foundation for who Piri is which makes the stories more powerful having already read the novels. I highly recommend that if you are interested in reading this, you first read Siegal's novels. While they are marketed as children's novels, the content and writing are appropriate for any age. If you have children in junior high school or older, I highly recommend reading these books with them to give you a platform for discussing the Holocaust and human rights. Aranka Siegal's books are compelling reads for any age.

Bottom Line: A great compilation of fable-like stories which I highly recommend -- after reading Siegal's books Upon the Head of a Goat and Grace in the Wilderness. 4/5 stars (5/5 stars as a series)

1 comment:

  1. I know you've talked about Upon the Head of a Goat before, and I definitely need to read it sometime soon! I am really interested in most Holocaust and recovery books. I'm actually taking a class on WWII this semester, but I think it might be more tactical from rmp reviews. But this one sounds really fascinating and important, too. I love compelling stories and tales of compassion and learning. And I'll have to keep in in mind for my sister as the nieces get older, too!


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