Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev - Julie Gray with Gidon Lev

Gidon Lev is an ordinary man who, because of the circumstances of his birth, has lived a truly extraordinary life. That he is even alive to tell us about it today, is perhaps the most amazing thing of all about him because Gidon had no business even surviving his childhood. His adventures began in 1941, when as a six-year-old child, Gidon was transported along with his mother and grandfather to Térézin, a German concentration camp some 30 miles north of Prague. He would still be there at the end of World War II, one of the ninety-two children known to have survived the experience out of the fifteen thousand children imprisoned there during the war. 

Gidon Lev is now 85 years old, and he is ready to share his story with the rest of us. 

Not only did this man survive a concentration camp where he could have so easily succumbed to disease or some German-inflicted atrocity, he survived both Israel’s Six-Day War and its War of Attrition. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He was married twice and now lives with his “life partner,” Julie Gray, a woman some thirty years younger than him who wrote The True Adventures of Gidon Lev with a mighty assist from Gidon himself. He has six children, fourteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild – with more to come. The man has certainly had his ups and downs during the last eight decades and, looking back, he’s not always proud of his behavior or the way that he treated some of those closest to him. But then, who is, really? 

His story is fascinating, no doubt, but one of the things I most enjoyed about The True Adventures of Gidon Lev is the way Gray (left) takes her readers along for the ride as she pulls the book together from her firsthand observations and Gidon’s notes and papers from his past. As each chapter unfolds, the author shares the circumstances under which it was written, the conversational editing process she led Gidon through, and his emotional reaction to whatever chapter of his life they were discussing. For me, it was hard not to feel as if I were in the room with them, a silent witness to their unique relationship and way of working so beautifully together. Too, I couldn’t help but wonder if the two of them were learning as much about each other and Gidon’s past as I was as a reader. Sometimes, even Gidon seemed a bit surprised by – and reluctant to accept – some of what they uncovered together. 

Bottom Line: The True Adventures of Gidon Lev is a firsthand account of one man’s experiences in a World War II German concentration camp. That the experience is told largely through the eyes and memories of a child, makes it even more heartbreaking a tale than it would have already been. That also leaves room for the 85-year-old Gidon Lev to learn things about himself and his experiences in the camp that he had no way of knowing – or remembering – as a little boy. Gidon Lev’s story deserves to be heard, and Julie Gray has done him and his story proud.

(Photo of Julie Gray and Gidon Lev credit to Julie Gray)

(Review Copy provided by Author or Publisher)

6 comments:

  1. After reading your review, I will be keeping this book in mind. What an extraordinary life!

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    1. Lev's story really puts a face to what the world let happen to millions of people without much trying to stop it. Every country bears some guilt in that regard. But how a country like Germany could reach such a level of depravity still stuns me.

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  2. I've been getting in the mood for some good nonfiction! I'm adding this one to my list. :)

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    1. I think you'll enjoy the book, Lark...but that's probably the wrong word for me to use considering its subject.

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  3. Ninety two out of fifteen thousand!! Every time I read something like this I never can understand why a nation like Germany let this happen in their name. I'll probably always struggle with what they did all over Europe. Our parents were robbed of some of the best years of their lives and many robbed of their lives full stop. I'll keep an eye out for this as it's the kind of thing I want to read.

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    1. I think that number stunned me more than anything else in the book, Cath. Both Lev and his mother, to whom he was never really close, survived the camp. What were the odds of that? My dad left behind a picture or two from the camp he visited in May 1945, along with a handwritten letter from Germany briefly describing to his parents what he saw there. It all hits home when you hold a piece of history in your hands that way.

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