Three tales of survival


Edith Hahn Beer, the author, with Susan Dworkin, of "The Nazi Officer's Wife, How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust," lived in Vienna, Austria, not in Germany, but she and her family soon experienced the Anschluss, Hitler's first conquest of a neighbor. Beer says as early as 1920, authorities wanted to know who was a Jew. She didn't want to tell her story, but her daughter urged her to "let the world know." It must have been painful to relive all the sad memories.

Edith liked school, which was easy for her. Eventually current events interested her in the law. Since her father had given in and allowed her to go to the university, even though she was a girl, she almost reached her degree before the Nazis put her out of school. Edith's banishment to an asparagus farm makes the story sound like China's misery, making intellectuals dig ditches.

But Edith survived. She returned to Vienna ostensibly to visit her family, but then escaped to Munich, where she applied to work for the Red Cross and met the Nazi officer who fell in love with her.

The most impressive feature of the book is the pervasive fear. No matter where Edith went, no matter what she did, she could not escape fear until the war ended and she found herself still alive. Even happily married and protected, she could not feel secure. But that's what you learn from the end of the story.

Jean-Dominique Bauby tells of a different kind of fear in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." He suffered a kind of stroke that resulted in the "locked-in syndrome," in which his brain functioned apart from the rest of his body. When he woke from the original coma, he discovered that he could signal only by blinking an eye.

A wonderfully kind and patient nurse helped him by reciting letters of the alphabet to him. When he blinked, she could put the letters together into words and ask for his assent.

He entertains himself with memories. He had been the successful editor of a famous fashion magazine. His other memories are of smells and tastes and places. He can narrate a whole day at Lourdes or at the beach. His hospital is on a beach and affords him some pretty views. His visitors don't always give him pleasure because they are uneasy; one even turned around and went back home. His children do well, but his wife leaves him, couldn't handle it.

He realizes that he has a forced lack of humor. With his routine blinking at letters, it takes too long for clever repartee. He calls his speech therapist his Guardian Angel, but he has to give up hope that he will ever actually speak again. His family sometimes phone him, but all he can respond with is silence. He would love to be able to answer. When his girlfriend asks, "Are you there, Jean-Do?" he thinks that at times he does not know anymore.

The reader feels that Jean-Do escaped from his diving bell like a butterfly, making readers appreciate their own lives more.

In this month's young adult novel, "Somebody Everybody Listens To" by Suzanne Supplee, Retta Lee Jones has as good a voice as anyone in Nashville, but she has no money to get there. She sang the national anthem at her high school graduation, but there were no talent scouts in the audience.

Since all her friends and family encourage her, she agrees to borrow her aunt's car for the summer. But first thing in Nashville, she bumps into a low, decorative wall and breaks the oil pan. The tow truck driver takes pity on her, hires her as a temporary secretary, accepts a song as payment and becomes a good friend, giving her an occasional lunch and a couch for the night.

With the car only the least of her worries, she perseveres and sings at open-mic venues till a newspaper critic praises her. Soon a very fussy agent offers her help, and she is on her way.

Since Retta Lee is brilliant at imitating any famous singer, the author uses their names as chapter titles. Fun to read their bios with hopes for Retta Lee.