We are thrilled! This review will appear in the MidWest Book Review's September edition:
The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist. takes a different approach to exploring Jewish Holocaust history in following the effects of the Nazi concentration camp Térézin (Theresienstadt, near Prague) on the evolving life of Gidon Lev, who was a child when he was incarcerated.
Only 100 children survived out of the 15,000 imprisoned in the camp, making Lev one of the very few to emerge from its walls. But his story doesn't end there, because Gidon did more than simply survive his ordeal. He thrived, cultivated an optimistic outlook on the world, and experienced more adventures that involved him in two marriages, a late-life romance, and Israel's birth and meaning to the Jewish people.
Readers who pick up this story for its satisfying blend of Jewish history and biography will find Gidon Lev's story extraordinary not just because of the tenacity of its subject, but from his involvement in building a new life for himself and the Jewish people around him.
Author Julie Gray moved to Israel from Los Angeles in 2012, fleeing heartbreak and loss. Two months before her arrival, Gidon had lost his wife of forty years, which was a blow to his entire family. He determined to take the time to write a memoir of his life experiences, as a result, on the eve of his encounter with Gray, who saw this newfound project to fruition in this book.
Her introduction synthesizes the especially challenging role she assumed in translating Gidon's life for the world, placing it in proper perspective:
"The Holocaust has not defined Gidon’s life—he has not allowed it to—yet he found himself feeling responsible for conveying his experiences at the hands of the Nazis. Even so, he didn’t want that terrible experience to be the focal point of his life story. For me, this was sometimes tricky to navigate. I felt responsible as a curator of Gidon’s Holocaust testimony, as well as of his many other sometimes painful life experiences. I did not want to cause him or his family any more pain or grief than they had already endured."
The driving force of his life story is not your usual Holocaust history or autobiographical reflection, but a solidly positive, life-affirming perspective that is as much a celebration as a tribute.
Hard to imagine? The language of the story comes to life in unique ways, as in this example of Gidon’s encounter in a very different kibbutz than he'd experienced before:
"The members of the kibbutz welcomed us very warmly and went out of their way to make us feel at home there. There was not a single area of this kibbutz’s life that did not need help, and we had all come to do just that. Whereas in Ha’Zorea everything was well established, organized, and order ruled supreme, here in Zikim, everything was, to put it mildly, fluid."
The True Adventures of Gidon Lev is very much a collaborative effort, as author Gray adds historical background, cultural insights, and reflections to support Lev's quotes and memories, so that non-Jewish readers can readily understand the underlying influence and meaning of his experience.
It's a pleasure to read a Holocaust story that is a standout not just because it serves as another important invitation to remember and understand the atrocities of the past, but a lesson on how to celebrate the present and reform the future. Given the repressive forces at work in these times, we need the lessons cultivated in The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist. now, more than ever.
This is a highly recommended memoir that rises above and beyond politics, Middle East history, or autobiography alike to reveal the path one man took to move beyond an incredibly difficult childhood of cruelty and oppression.
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review