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Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life the Diaries, 1941-1943 and Letters from Westerbork Paperback – November 15, 1996

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Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life the Diaries, 1941-1943 and Letters from Westerbork + Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion + In Due Season: A Catholic Life
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (November 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805050876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805050875
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

YA--Hillesum was in her mid-20s at the time of the Holocaust; her diaries consist mainly of musings about the confusion, perplexities, and struggles all around her and mature into a clear philosophy of love of God and all humanity. Her most intimate thoughts are played out at length, but perseverance results in a rewarding view of humanity. The young woman's letters (the second part of the book) reveal a great deal more detail about the day-to-day life at the transit camp of Westerbork (the last stop before Auschwitz). Here, individual people come into view more clearly, and the horrors and atrocities facing the Jews at that time emerge. That Hillesum could rise above hate and generalization in the midst of such horror and evil reveals a tremendous inner strength. Her courage, determination, and faith reveal her amazing spirit. An inspirational reading experience.

Bunni Union, Geauga West Library, Chesterland, OH

Copyright 1997 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Remarkable . . . What made life meaningful to Etty was the rare combination of erotic, spiritual, and intellectual passions that made up her 'thinking heart.' A truly great book."-The Washington Post Book World

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Customer Reviews

Just incredible to me the wisdom and faith and personal insight of such a young woman.
She was unwaivering in her desire to see the beauty and meaning of life in one of the most difficult situations ever experienced on this planet.
James W. Mcelroy, III
I bought this book for friends of mine because I liked it so much lol I read it once and fell in love with it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

156 of 158 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Having read the reviews, I am amazed that Etty's spiritual growth managed to be felt by the reviewers despite the terrible translation. This translator not only leaves out the poetry of her way of expressing herself -- the continuing metaphors she employs to make her points -- but the translator completely misses the point and mistranslates almost on every page. For example, on page 211 of this edition, the translator has Etty telling us that Klaus committed suicide and that she must "make sure his name is taken off the card index." No, no, no. Klaus did not commit suicide and in any case, even if he had, Etty would not have worried bureaucratically about removing his name from a registry. What Etty really said was that a man committed suicide in the camp hospital and Klaus's reaction was to worry about taking his name off the registry. Because Klaus COULD NOT EMPATHIZE. Klaus hated the Nazis but he himself had the heart of a Nazi. This is what fascinated Etty -- that this man who could see the evil in others was oblivious to his own. This point is obscured by the erroneous translation.
A translator who does not understand the message is unable to translate the message. Etty's message is subtle. Her message is about spiritual growth. If the translator is not at the same level of understanding, the translation will be distorted by numerous tiny slightly wrong word choices and word order. If you liked the book in this translation, well, one can only hope that someone will translate it correctly some day. Or if you can read French, try the version "Une vie boulverse" by Philippe Noble, Editions du Seuil.
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70 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Avocadess on April 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was first drawn to this book by the black and white photo of Etty on the cover -- belying a woman who was thoughtful, mysterious, bohemian. Then when I saw that this was truly a book that was inspirational -- and written by someone who was herself a victim of the Holocaust -- I was indeed intrigued and purchased the book in anxious anticipation.
However, nothing prepared me for just how truly enlightening this book was to be! Etty lived in the same time period and only blocks from where Anne Frank was hiding, and had the advantage of living as a Jewish housekeeper in a non-Jewish household. Indeed she had many advantages that could have, has she pursued it, possibly spared her ultimate end at Auschwitz. However, Etty had some strong feelings, which she mentions more than a couple of times. One is that she did not see why she should be spared what so many thousands of others were having to bear. However she also dearly hoped to live past the end of this terrible era -- and she felt always certain that this dark era would end -- especially so that she would be able to tell the world something so important, and have the world listen. She would tell the world that "life is beautiful, in spite of everything." Though her life was cut off in Auschwitz in November of 1943, the book perhaps can fulfill that dear hope.
No Pollyanna or ostrich, Etty experienced her ups and downs fully. Yet she had a deep understanding of real fulfillment in and gratitude for life. Most importantly, she looked for her answers within, and while the world with out was often atrocious, clearly what she found within was a source of constant beauty and sustenance.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Peter Fennessy on March 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
I found this book very difficult to get into. Like many spiritual journals this book seemed at first overly self-centered and indulgent; one page read boringly very much like the page that went before. Her sleeping around and her bizarre therapy with Spier put one off. And Etty herself felt very deeply, vehemently, passionately; reading her can be like drinking water from a fire hose. One might feel like giving up the battle, but it will be well worth your while to push on. More and more one begins to see astonishing signs of spiritual growth and maturity and then of extraordinary achievement and grace. Emotionalism passes into selfless and self-sacrificing love. She moves speedily from her first ability to say the word God to constant prayer and even to a mystical union, all the more significant for being so unrelated to any conventional religion. In the midst of ever increasing certitude about coming annihilation, and eventually amid the horrors of the transit camp of Westerbork, this young woman not only manages to preserve her sanity and keep herself from hating her persecutors, but somehow even comes to rejoice in the beauty and meaning of life. It is truly a wonder how anyone could manage to grow to such transcendent greatness of spirit in so short a time. How fortunate for us that it happened to a woman who felt so deeply, knew herself so clearly, and wrote so aptly, and whose writings from the midst of the Holocaust has survived to our time.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By K. Adams on February 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am compelled to add my comments here because I disagree completely with those of K. Unger, the first of the reviews here. Etty's diary is not a "book" that can be reviewed the way one reviews a novel. This is an historical document--a journal and letters--and Etty's intention when writing was not to weave a narrative for some future reader, but to explore her own character--her faults, desires, dreams, and place in the world. Unger calls her "self-involved and lazy;" I would say that she is profoundly self-aware, self-critical, and attempting to create an intellectual life for herself. This intellectual life requires her to sit at her desk--reading, thinking, writing. The value of the work is that it allows us to watch as her mature self unfolds, as she struggles with both personal issues and the increasingly threatening political situation. If you come to this book prepared to allow Etty to lead you along the path she follows, a path which leads ultimately to acceptance of her fate, you will come away awed and moved by the power of the human heart and mind.
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