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A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 20, 2012
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“As if her 108 years of experience alone were not enough to coax you, there is the overarching fact that draws people to Herz-Sommer’s story: She survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp and is believed to be the oldest living Holocaust survivor.”—The Washington Post
“I have rarely read a Holocaust survivor’s memoir as enriching and meaningful. Get Caroline Stoessinger’s book, A Century of Wisdom, telling Alice Herz-Sommer’s tale of her struggles and triumphs. You will feel rewarded.”—Elie Wiesel
“A Century of Wisdom is a stately and elegant book about an artist who found deliverance in her passion for music. Caroline Stoessinger writes with a special purity, as though she were arranging pearls on a string of silk.”—Pat Conroy
“As one of millions who fell in love on YouTube with Alice Herz-Sommer, a 108-year-old Holocaust survivor who plays the piano and greets each day with no hint of bitterness, I’m grateful to Caroline Stoessinger for writing a book that explains this mystery. You will be inspired by the story of Alice Herz-Sommer, who lives to teach us.”—Gloria Steinem
“I walked on the cobblestones in Prague for thirty years wondering who might have walked on them before me: Kafka, Freud, Mahler. It feels like a miracle to have encountered, in Caroline Stoessinger’s wonderful book, Alice Herz-Sommer, who walked with them all—with a heart full of music.”—Peter Sis
“Caroline Stoessinger’s celebration of music and life and of the meaning and legacy of Alice Herz-Sommer’s remarkable, love-filled journey across the bitter, hate-filled years of twentieth-century madness is lyrical, compelling, and profoundly moving. This is an extraordinary, enchanting, entirely inspiring book—most timely and needed now.”—Blanche Wiesen Cook
“A Century of Wisdom is universal and will enrich readers for generations to come.”—Itzhak Perlman
“A treasure trove of insight and reflection. Herz-Sommer’s life is a tribute to the purity of artistic endeavor under the most devastating circumstances, and her refusal to be bitterly defined or essentially reshaped by tragedy is a testament to moral and spiritual courage.”—Booklist
“What Stoessinger’s work reveals startlingly and firsthand are details of life in the concentration camp, especially how the musicians coped with the horrible conditions and even formed a vibrant community. . . . ‘Every concert played there,’ Stoessinger writes, ‘became a moral victory against the enemy.’”—Kirkus Reviews
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Top Customer Reviews
Alice will destroy every concept you may have about old people. "She says that, just because she is old in years, she is not irrelevant. And more insistently Alice says, 'My mind is young. My emotions and my imagination are still young.' Then with a whimsical bit of laughter, 'Of course, I do have some experience.' 'You cannot see the real me inside my wrinkled skin, the life of my emotions. What you see is only the outer face of a very old woman.'
Zest for life emanates from her. Herz-Sommer, a concert pianist, lives through her music. Embracing Spinoza's philosophy, she believes that, "....death and life are part of the same infinity or God...We come from and return to Infinity." "Things are as they are supposed to be. I am still here--never too old so long as I breathe to wonder, to learn, and yes, still to teach. Curiosity--interest in others, and, above all, music. This is life." It is not only her exquisite musical talent that makes her extraordinary. This ability to question and learn and find joy in life--despite its tragedies--is what defines her as a remarkable woman.
Even her philosophy about child-rearing when she was a young mother was counter to her times. She believed children could never have too much love. And in the concentration camp, it was her love and indomitable cheerfulness with which she raised her only child, her son, Rafi. She epitomizes her creed, "I never give up hope.Read more ›
The book is a quick read, both well-written and compelling, thanks to the work of Caroline Stoessinger through many hours of interviews and friendship with the subject. One cannot help but feel some sadness for an individual who has outlived her home, her child, and indeed her entire country; and yet Herz-Sommer's outlook remains upbeat and she remains surrounded by friends and musical colleagues. How she has achieved this is the basic topic of the entire text, a firm lesson as to one way - perhaps the best way - of living and leading a rich and fruitful life.
Music gave her hope and helped the other prisoners forget finding their names on transport lists to Auschwitz, and their hunger and their harsh surroundings. (More than 156,000 passed through the gates of Theresienstadt and only 11% would survive.)
The book skims across the surface of Alice's life, beginning with her idyllic early days in Czechoslovakia, her time as a prisoner in Theresienstadt, to her time in Israel and London. The book focuses less on Alice's time as a concentration camp prisoner and more on Alice's illustrious musical career and famous people she knew.
There are some interesting anecdotes about Kafka who was a friend of Alice's sister's fiancé. Alice remembered Kafka as an `eternal child' who when he couldn't decide what to study, became a lawyer. He was often late and often got lost, and made up stories of wild imaginary beasts and could be a lot of fun.
Alice became friends with Israel's Prime Minister, Golda Meir and tells about the day Golda helped her peel potatoes in her kitchen.
The book jumps around in time which at times makes the narrative difficult to follow, but this is more an observation than a criticism. There is little to criticize here. It was written about, and with the help of, a woman who is 107 years old who has had a long and rich and interesting life.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Awesomely inspiring book. Alice Herz-Sommer, one life well-spent! We all can benefit from her example.Published 3 months ago by queenofquality
An incredible life story with so many valuable insights. Sometimes the book is a bit meandering with regard to the timeline of events, jumping back and forth a bit, but it's still... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Thomas M. Smith
Excellent book. Well written, interesting, and informative.Published 8 months ago by Tyhesha Elmore
A Century of Wisdom is a gem. This is a story of resilience and triumph! Such a wonderful read it is.Published 8 months ago by Delphine