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On Our Bedside Table: A Memoir, a Business Book, Two Novels and the One About a Donkey

On Our Bedside Table: A Memoir, a Business Book, Two Novels and the One About a Donkey

Nutreats
On our Bedside Table February 2020

Last Stop Auschwitz by Eddy de Wind

 

Last Stop Auschwitz by Eddy de WindIn a Nutshell

Eddy de Wind was a Dutch Doctor and psychiatrist. He was the last Jewish doctor to graduate from Leiden University in the Netherlands; and shortly afterwards he landed up in the Westerbork Labour Camp where he met and married his wife Friedel. In 1943, they were both deported to Auschwitz. Eddie ended up in the medical barracks, whilst Friedel was put with a group of women selected for brutal and barbaric medical experiments. Throughout their time in Auschwitz, they managed to stay connected, whether it was by secret notes, brief moments together or sending each other whatever scraps of food they had. At the end of the war, the Nazis fled taking prisoners with them on what became known as the “Death Marches”. Friedel was taken with them, while Eddy hid and remained at camp. It was there, at the end of the war, in a near empty Auschwitz, surrounded by death and horror that Eddy sat down and wrote his testimony, using a pen and paper he found. It is the only known Holocaust Memoir that was written entirely at Auschwitz, and his account has not been edited or changed.

 

Book Club Notes

I’ve read a lot of Holocaust memoirs and history books and each time I read a new memoir I am shocked to discover something I never knew. In an afterword John Boyne speaks to that sentiment saying “with each newly published memoir, history book or novel that details the crimes that took place across Europe during the Holocaust, our understanding of that period increases in direct correlation with our dismay at the brutality of our species”.

 

This book is unlike any other memoir, and that is because of when and where it was written. Eddy wrote it while still technically a prisoner, surrounded by death, horror and so traumatised he doesn’t use his own name. Instead he created a character Hans, to narrate his story. In Last stop Auschwitz he lays bare every single event that happened, every conversation he had, ever conversation he heard and everything he saw. It’s as if he was desperate to make sure to leave evidence and bear testimony of the horrors that had gone on behind the concentration camps walls.

 

It’s raw, authentic and at points incredibly difficult to read; yet it is one of the most important memoirs of that time – because of that excruciating detail and raw pain. He cared less about the way he was portrayed and more about making sure he documented everything that happened – so that the world would know.  That become his mission and reason for living – to make sure the world knew what happened so that it could never happen again.

 

Throughout the book there are many German words and phrases – mostly those used within the camp to explain things. Towards the end of the book there is a glossary of words and their meanings which you can use to help you understand the meaning in the book. I only discovered that late in the book, and it makes a big difference in understanding what you are reading.

 

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall

 

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougallIn a Nutshell

Christopher McDougall is the author behind the best-selling book “Born to Run”, a book that no doubt inspired dozens of runners to lose their shoes in favour of sandals and bare feet; and chug down chia frescas before a run.

 

In his latest book, he shares the story of Sherman, a mistreated donkey who was so abused and neglected, he became fearful of humans and gravel. Christopher took Sherman in, with intention of nursing him back to health. Within days of caring for Sherman, Christopher struck on a crazy idea, to give Sherman purpose by training him to run.  But not just run, be able to partake in burro racing – a race in which humans and donkey run side by side as teams.

 

The book details Sherman’s story from scared neglected donkey to a strong, athletic and healthy donkey who gains confidence from running and slowly starts trusting Christopher and humans. It takes a village to raise a donkey and so you learn about Christopher’s Amish neighbors, the local Amish running club, a donkey whisperer, Christopher’s wife Mika, long distance truckers and athletes who all pitch in to help get Sherman ready for the World Championship Pack Burro Race in Colorado. Somehow along that journey, Sherman’s journey to health becomes intertwined in the journey of a young friend of Christopher, battling with depression. It turns out exercise and animal contact can profoundly impact human’s mental and physical health, while exercise and human contact can profoundly impact animals.

 

Book Club Notes

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it is just marvelous. Christopher is a gifted storyteller who not only tells a story brilliantly but does so in such a way that he ignites something into you. If you’re feeling blah or burnt out about your running, reading this book will re-ignite your love for it. Halfway through the book he made me want to get a pet goat (an idea that has been shot down by anyone I’ve told. Apparently running the streets of Joburg with a pet goat isn’t done) and do burro racing – despite the stories of falls, broken bones and frustration.

 

There are so many stories within the main story, and you realise he uses running to tell stories. It’s this common thread that weaves its way between all the stories and acts as a catalyst for human connection. There’s insight into the Amish community, mental health, endurance runners, physical exercise and more. I’ve always believed movement is good for you, but you read this book and you see how it has helped people achieve things no doctor thought possible. How it gives them control of their lives and health. How it brings together people from different backgrounds and the positive impact running can have on mental health.

 

There are many gems I took from this book, but one that has lingered in my mind is his conversation around the Amish way of life and what he’s learnt from his neighbors who seem stuck in another century. We tend to judge people who are different from us, especially those we view living restricted or narrow-minded lives. How can you be happy if you’re living according to strict rules – be they religious, dietary or lifestyle; or simply just not choosing my way of eating, working, breathing. He speaks about rules that hold you back and rules that help you grow. Those rules are different for different people. Instead of viewing people by what you think they’re giving up or missing out on, look at it through their eyes and realise that maybe what they’re giving up isn’t worth as much as what they gain by living within their chosen parameters.  Perhaps that’s the message hidden in Running with Sherman – the lesson of running. That it strips us bare to just humans and teaches us tolerance and acceptance of people who live differently to us. Because at our core, we are more alike than different.

 

ps. I still want to do burro racing.

 

In the Lion’s Den by Barbara Taylor Bradford

 

In the Lion’s Den by Barbara Taylor BradfordIn a Nutshell

In the 19th century, the rapid industrialization of England brought immense wealth for the few who seized the opportunities that came with it. Set in Victorian London, this book explores this theme through the main protagonist, James Falconer, who grew up as barrow boy, with dreams of one day having his own retail empire. Disciplined, ambitious and with a natural instinct for business, James has risen from working in his father’s stall to becoming the right-hand man of Henry Malvern, owner of the biggest trading company in London. Enter Alexis, Henry’s daughter and heir, who should be training to take over the company, but has shut herself up in the countryside, swallowed in grief. With Henry nearing retirement and becoming increasingly reliant on James, and Alexis showing no sign of returning from her self-imposed isolation, what will become of James’ lifelong dreams?

 

Book Club Notes

This novel was recommended for me by Feige, who caught the words ‘Russian émigrés’ in the blurb for this book, and after my review on From Russia with Blood, assumed the rest. Despite the false advertising, I read the book anyways and needless to say, it’s a historical fiction set in the Victorian era, filled with passion, secrets, friendship and loyalty, but certainly no Russian conspiracy theories.

 

Not being the genre of fictions I would typically read, I approached this novel highly skeptical. I reached the end of it disappointed, feeling that certain elements of the story were not fully developed and that the story wasn’t finished. Turns out, the story isn’t finished. After doing research for this review, I discovered that this is actually the second book in a series. With this in mind, I will admit, that it was these elements; brief episodes of intrigue scattered throughout the book, alluding to something more sinister brewing behind the scenes (and which in hindsight, are clearly setting the stage for future installments) that kept me turning the pages. This book was light and easy to read, but word to the wise…Series are generally intended to be read in chronological order ?.

 

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

 

The Infinite Game by Simon SinekIn a Nutshell

In the Infinite game, Simon Sinek shows us how infinite games are all around us, and how understanding the difference between finite and infinite; And adopting an infinite mindset will help us build businesses, lives and legacies that will perpetuate onward, long after we’re gone.

 

“In a finite game, the game ends when its time is up and the players live on to play another day. In the infinite game, it’s the opposite. It is the game that lives on and it is the players whose time runs out.”

 

Book Club Notes

I must admit that I struggled to get into this book. To start, I found the introduction to the concepts of finite and infinite over explanatory, but once Simon started using stories to illustrate his ideas and the lessons we can learn, I began to enjoy it.

 

Despite my early struggle, the valuable lessons packed throughout the book were evident from page 1 – which is where the first of many book tags was stuck. There were many concepts and ideas that resonated with me, particularly his section on finding worthy rivals.

 

“Traditional competition forces us to take on an attitude of winning. A worthy rival inspires us to take on an attitude of improvement.”

 

Once I finished the book, I started seeing so many areas that the lessons can be applied to. Infinite games really are happening all around us. It’s not just relevant to the business leader (although as he shows, it should be compulsory ideology for any company that wants to stand the test of time). If you’re an athlete, a parent, a teacher, manage any people or really, are just human, there are valuable applicable insights in this book.

 

In my pivot from being bored, to taking in the lessons, I realised that for me what makes self-help/ business books really good, are when ideas and science are delivered through real people stories. It’s the reason that The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is one of my favourite books.

 

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley

 

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda RileyIn a Nutshell

This Novel centered around the life of Posy Montague, is set between 1943 and 2006. As she approaches her seventieth birthday, living alone in her magnificent family home in the Suffolk countryside, she is faced with the decision to sell it.

 

Enter problems among her 30-something year old children and the reappearance of her first love, who is holding onto the devastating secret that parted them almost 50 years prior, and you get a multi-generational emotional melting pot of secrets, lies, twists and turns.

 

Book Club Notes

At surface level, this book has all the irritatingly classic elements that make up a chic flick Novel; A strong heroine – check. Impossibly gorgeous women, including the one who thinks herself plain but is oblivious to her beauty – check. A damsel or two in distress – check. “Knights in shining armor” to come to said damsels’ rescues – check. Men who fall head over heels in love with women at first sight and instantly know they want to be with them forever – check. Super realistic.

 

Yet, this 628 paged Novel (yes you read that number right) is an utterly charming and well written book. The more novels I read, the easier it becomes to tell the good from the bad. There is nothing wrong with an easy read that you can get lost in. And boy can you get lost in this. I can tell how much I like a book by how eager I am to finish it quickly, and I sailed through it in a 24-hour span of one weekend. Not every book needs to be highly intellectually stimulating, in fact I really enjoy the dichotomy of both. But, when an easy read is actually well written, peppered with intellectually stimulating complex characters, unexpected twists and turns and life lessons, you have yourself a winner.

 

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