Friday, August 5, 2011

The Remains of War by G. Pauline Kok-Schurgers

Part Of The Synopsis From Back Cover:

When the Dutch Army surrenders to Japan in 1942, nine-year-old Sofia is imprisoned with her mother, younger brother, and two baby sisters in different concentration camps on Sumatra, Indonesia.  Her father is sent to work on the Burma-Siam railroad, and the family doesn't know if he is dead of alive.  In this memoir, author G. Pauline Kok-Schurgers narrates a story of hate and torture, starvation and disease, and physical and psychological abuse experienced during her interment.

Sofia toils through those years, taking care of her younger siblings and trying to prevent her mother from sinking deeper into depression.  Sofia longs for her father's return and her mother's attention and love.  The gruesome years in those camps, the loneliness, and the loss of dear friends transform Sofia into a silent, inward person, scarred for the rest of her life.

I dont' even know where to being on this one.  I'm not sure if it's even possible to "review" a book like this.  There is no way I can critique such a personal, raw story of dehumanization and war.  All I can do is state how I reacted to the book and how it made me feel on a visceral level.

I found the narrative choice to be interesting and provocative.  Instead of  recounting her time in the camps from an adult perspective, the author chose to narrate from the eyes of herself as that little nine year old thrust into a world she can't begin to comprehend.  The emotions are that of a child, so hate, jealously, bitterness is all the more palpable for me.  The contempt she feels for certain people oozes off the page as does the vast suffering she had to endure.  I'm a little torn on how that decision influenced the way I feel about the book.  On an emotional level, I was in heartache reading what this child had to go through.  On a academic level, I would have liked to see what she thoughts now, as an adult, about what she and her family had to go through.  I think both are valid outlooks but I think I would have liked a little of both.

I'm not going to recount everything she and the rest of the prisoners had suffer as it would take too long and would make me wince with every word I typed.  I will say that nobody, especially a child, should ever have to endure the humiliation, torture, and neglect that these people had afflicted on them.  The fact that any of them survived the camps is a testament to the human spirit and desire to live.  I'm not sure I could have survived after four years of what they had done to them.

My only other wish is that the book had not ended when it did.  It left me feeling a little disconnected from what happens and how Sofia reacts to her father not recognizing her.  If is was her father.  I would like to know what happened after she wandered away, how the family reacted and dealt with being reunited once again.

No matter what, Sofia and her story will stay with me for the rest of my life and I would love for more stories to be told.  I would like to read other accounts from survivors of the concentration camps, that I think the world and history have forgotten about.


Blodeuedd said...

I do like that she narrates from a child's eyes because that just makes it more real

bermudaonion said...

Is this a true story? I think narration through a child's eyes would work really well for me because they're so good at expressing the confusion we all feel in situations like that.

Anonymous said...

This would shatter my heart. Just thinking of a child having to go through these painful experiences is unimaginable. But it is an important story to be told as I didn't know about this at all.

Yvette said...

I really think you have to be young enough to read this sort of story and not come away totally shell-shocked.

I'm too old now to read about such tragedy. It just becomes too much for me, Ryan - on several levels. What happened to displaced and interred people in WWII was horrific.

Your review is very moving in itself.

Simcha said...

When I was younger I had read a lot of WWII memoirs but after a while I had to stop because they just got me too depressed. This sounds like it would be a difficult book to read, especially if told from the perspective of a child. Perhaps the author cut off the story when she did because she plans on writing a sequel, as is often the case.

Staci said...

Sounds like an emotional read!

Anna said...

This does sound very intense. I'll be reading it soon so glad to know what is in store for me. I've linked to your review on War Through the Generations.