Back to Reading Books

by apoorvmat

I have read very little in the last 16 years. Since leaving school (1994), it was just the odd PG Wodehouse, a random O Henry short story and sometimes business literature (of which I could only ever finish Good to Great).

2010 has been different in that I have started reading books again. And I am so excited that I want to share my experience with everyone!

In this note, I want to talk about three books that have a common thread. I have read two and I am about to finish reading the third. Its difficult to articulate what the common thread is – perhaps you shall be able to describe it after reading my impressions of the three books.

The first book is ‘Comedy in a minor key’ by Hans Keilson. The novella was first published in German in 1947 but was translated into English only this year. The book was reviewed by The New York Time/IHT in the summer and that’s how I (and, if the American Book Center in Amsterdam is to be believed, hundreds others) became interested in it. In short, its a part-comic, part-poignant take on lives of ordinary people during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. I simply LOVED the book. The big take-away for me was that while we can all empathize with people in a difficult situation, we only truly understand their difficulty when we have to experience that situation ourselves. I would highly recommend this easy-to-read gem.

Having lived in Amsterdam for four years, I was a bit embarrassed of never having read ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. ‘Comedy in a minor key’ was the final push I needed to read it. What can I say? The book is powerful and depressing at the same time. For me, the diary is a lot about human relationships and human frailties, and there are not as many references to the war or the plight of Jews under the Nazis as I had expected. That, and the book’s abrupt end, made me sad because Anne had no idea of the horrors that awaited her in Westerbork, Auschwitz and Belsen. This book made me think and be grateful for the life I lead.

The third is a book that Amrita lent me after I shared with her my impressions about the other two books. Its called ‘The Jewish Problem’ by Louis Golding (himself a Jew). Strange title, I first thought. I realized once I started reading the book that the title referred to the problem that the Jews have faced down the ages rather than to the suggestion that the Jews were a problem! In fact, at one point, the author does suggest an alternate title for the book – The Gentile Problem. The book is a concise history of how and why the Jews have been ostracized and persecuted throughout time. The author tries to explain every Jewish stereotype and rationally addresses all myths associated with the Jews. Good going so far. But why am I talking about the book if I haven’t finished reading it? Here’s why. As I glanced through the chapter on ‘The Nazi Horror’ I realized that while there’s a long list of various atrocities, there’s absolutely no mention of the Holocaust. I thought that was very strange! I then checked the publication date. November 1938! I am still in shock. What would this book read like if it was written six years later!?! I’ll start reading the book again after I have recovered!

(Originally written in October 2010 as a Facebook ‘Note’)