From Publishers WeeklyRussian refugee Bannister (1927–2004) rarely spoke about her brutal experiences under the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, not even to the American she married after the war. In this memoir, she reveals how a privileged childhood in the 1920s and '30s gave way to horror and loss in the 1940s. Although the sound quality of this production is poor (lots of rustling papers), Rebecca Gallagher does reasonably well with the multiple languages and wisely avoids attempting to replicate European accents. What is irritating, however, is the constant interruption in the form of unnecessary editor's notes, which make the narrative choppy and disjointed. More helpful is the seventh disc, which contains an interview with Bannister's husband and son, a precious audio reminiscence from Nonna herself, recorded in 1993, and abundant PDF materials, including maps, photographs and genealogical data. A Tyndale hardcover. (June)
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From BooklistHow this story came to be written is a big part of the drama. The only World War II survivor of her wealthy Russian, devout Christian family, Nonna Lisowskaya came to the U.S. in 1950, married Henry Bannister, and never spoke about her Holocaust experience––until a few years before her death in 2004, when she revealed her diaries, originally written in six languages on paper scraps that she had kept in a pillow strapped to her body throughout the war. Now those diaries, in her English translation, tell her story of fleeing Stalinist Russia, not knowing what was waiting in Hitler’s Germany, where she saw her mother murdered in the camps, escaped a massacre of Jews shot into a pit, was nursed by Catholic nuns, and much more. The editors’ commentary in different type constantly interrupts the memoir, but the notes are helpful in explaining history and context. The added-on heavy messages celebrating Nonna’s Christian forgiveness seem intrusive and unnecessary, no matter how heartfelt. --Hazel Rochman --
The cover of this book is an old photograph of Nonna. The material that runs just under her eyes is the material from her childhood pillow. She carried that pillow with her her entire life, tucking in notes and scraps of things she cherished. The way the pillow is placed under her eyes, gives her a look of shock, surprise, I would even go so far as to say horror. It is perfect. Eerie (given the topic). It was the reason I purchased the book.
This story follows the life of Nonna Bannister. Her hand written notes, transcribed into a story, taken after her death to a publisher. Wow. It is amazing. The story itself--gut wrenching. True. Unbearable at times. The history & timeline are unwound and even challenged at times, by the publisher/'author'. I read this book on vacation...in the airport. It was so good, so totally spellbinding, that I could not put it down until the very end.
Even after the war, when Nonna is safe & sound, the story is riveting. Married for over 50 years, she never shared her story with her family. And (even more interesting) her wonderful, loving, amazing husband, never asked. He knew not to press his wife...so he waited patiently. Then, not long before Nonna departs for the great beyond, she shares.
The story of Nonna Bannister is not to be missed. As the sole surviving member of her family, she carried a great deal of pain with her throughout her life; but she never let it jade her. She married, raised a family, loved and was loved. This book is an amazing read. A Must Read if you have any interest in Russian History, the Holocaust, or World War II. I openly wept in the airport (I believe I scared a few folks).
Right now you can get a copy of The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The untold Story of Nonna Bannister for your Kindle, in paperback, hardcover, or audio edition on Amazon.com
It is a heavy read, but it is worth it!
P.S. This post would *only* write in italics. Weird, right? I feel like Nonna is here, making sure it gets some extra special attention....Happy 4th of July everyone. Remember those who gave of themselves so we can be free.