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A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the…

by Caroline Stoessinger

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A good book full of good wisdom for us all. Alice's life is an inspiration and a testament to the power of positivity. I loved Alice's non-negative attitude, which saw her through some of life's toughest moments: the Holocaust, the loss of her husband, the loss of her son, and the loss of her parents. What a didn't enjoy about the book was that it jumps around between time periods. I think it would have been better had there been more flow to it. Still it was a worthwhile read and was very meaningful. ( )
  briandrewz | Mar 10, 2014 |
Look at the complete title of this book. The book is more about Alice Herz-Sommer's life philosophy than the events that shaped that philosophy. She is the oldest living holocaust survivor. Yes, she is still living and will be 110 in November 2013. She and her son survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp. She has met many famous musicians, conductors, composers, philosophers, authors and politicians. She speaks of their accomplishments and how she came to know each of them. Kafka she met when still a child. He was a friend of her older sister's husband. Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke were friends of her mother. Golda Meir, Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Isaac Stern came to her informal concerts at home when she lived in Israel, and she offered piano lessons to teach Gold Meir. But honestly, it is more that she brushed shoulders with these people rather than that they were her very close friends.

She was a fantastic pianist. Music was the central theme of her life - always! Her love for music really shines through. Music is not just something she enjoys; it is something that is important and vital to all life. That is what this book says AND that one must face life with optimism.

Optimism. She refused to even talk about the years in Theresienstadt. Having survived she looked forward rather than backward. She never let those years be discussed at home after the war when she was raising her son. Complaining she frowned upon. Laughter and music were the medicine for all ills. The book is filled with lots of wise lines.....but although most all of us will agree on her wisdom and sage statements, it is only when you look at a particular event that one can determine the correct way of behaving. I will give only one example of what I am referring too. Some children benefit from talking about the difficult experiences they have gone through. Avoiding a topic is not always helpful. Talk is necessary for some people and in some situations. So generalizations, that we all agree on, are less interesting than figuring out what to do in a particular situation. The main emphasis of this book is her life philosophy, but there is no discussion of when and where and how to put these principles into practice. Do you see what bothered me?

I liked learning about her personal experiences in Theresienstadt. I am glad they were included in the book and not avoided. Many of her friends did not even know she was a holocaust survivor! That is the extent to which she refused to speak of those years.

I like the woman very much. I respect her. My rating is a judgment of the book, not the person. The book hops from one time to another, from one subject to another. There is a chapter on her friends, but we are told about their wonderful accomplishments more than about their relationship with Alice.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Linda Korn. It was clearly spoken, but in a sweet tone of admiration that was not to my liking. She cannot do an Irish brogue, although she tries in a few lines spoken by the concierge of Alice's apartment building. Some of the names, and there were lots mentioned, I could not decipher. That is a clear advantage of a paper book.

For me, the most interesting parts about this book were her Theresienstadt memories and the parts about Kafka and Spinoza. I am very glad I have met Alice Herz-Sommer. ( )
1 vote chrissie3 | Aug 28, 2013 |
In our modern time of professional victimhood and taking offense at the most minute of slights, Caroline Stroessinger's A Century of Wisdom's greatest lesson may be that no one can diminish you without your consent. The book focuses on the remarkable life story of pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, the world's oldest living Holocaust survivor.

Strossinger details Herz-Sommer's early life Prague and her captivity at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, including the lost of her husband and mother to the Nazis. Yet instead of being a retelling of the horrors of the Holocaust, we are treated to an amazing story of hope, inspiration, and strength. Despite her terrible experiences at Theresienstadt, Herz-Sommer chose to embrace the beauty and wonder of life through her music. She simply rejects the horror around her and instead throws herself into her music to build her inner strength and resilience.

If Herz-Sommer's story had merely ended with the liberation of Theresienstadt and her going on to raise her son, her life would still have been an amazing story to tell. But it is what she accomplished afterwards that truly defines who she is. At one point in the narrative, we learn that the Holocaust was not discussed in her home while raising her son. Not because she was in denial regarding the things that happened. But simply because she refused to allow it to define her and her family. Instead of dwelling on what-might-have-beens and nursing anger, she threw herself into her music even more and chooses a life worth living.

There are a few points where Stroessinger gets in the way of the story, interrupting the narrative with data dumps of historical information. While perhaps useful for context, some of these data dumps are inelegant compared to the rest of the work. She also sometimes slips into the present tense (though this may have been resolved in the final book. My version was an advanced uncorrected proof). But the tense change is sometimes jarring, particularly after an emotionally charged point in the narrative. ( )
  juliedawson | Feb 7, 2013 |
here are not too many people I have read about that I would actually like to meet but Alice is definitely one. At the age of 108 she takes walks to stay healthy, eschewing a walker but wearing tennis shoes, she plays the piano everyday and just until recently was taking classes in philosophy and history. Though the book does explain about the situation in Czechoslovakia, that led to her families internment in the concentration camp, she refuses to dwell on it and if fact once she and her son, the only two left are liberated she really doesn't like to discuss it, because she doesn't want people to feel sorry for her. This book was more a celebration of life and music. Exceptional book about an exceptional person. ( )
  Beamis12 | Apr 18, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812992814, Hardcover)

An inspiring story of resilience and the power of optimism—the true story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor.
 
At 108 years old, the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer is an eyewitness to the entire last century and the first decade of this one. She has seen it all, surviving the Theresienstadt concentration camp, attending the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, and along the way coming into contact with some of the most fascinating historical figures of our time. As a child in Prague, she spent weekends and holidays in the company of Franz Kafka (whom she knew as “Uncle Franz”), and Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke were friendly with her mother. When Alice moved to Israel after the war, Golda Meir attended her house concerts, as did Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Isaac Stern. Today Alice lives in London, where she still practices piano for hours every day. 
 
Despite her imprisonment in Theresienstadt and the murders of her mother, husband, and friends by the Nazis, and much later the premature death of her son, Alice has been victorious in her ability to live a life without bitterness. She credits music as the key to her survival, as well as her ability to acknowledge the humanity in each person, even her enemies. A Century of Wisdom is the remarkable and inspiring story of one woman’s lifelong determination—in the face of some of the worst evils known to man—to find goodness in life. It is a testament to the bonds of friendship, the power of music, and the importance of leading a life of material simplicity, intellectual curiosity, and never-ending optimism.

Foreword by Václav Havel

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:13 -0400)

Collects life lessons by a Holocaust survivor and concert pianist, sharing the wisdom she has gleaned and insights into her resolve to thrive in spite of loss and her choice to harbor no bitterness toward her oppressors.

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