Title: Gift of Darkness:Growing Up in Occupied Amsterdam
Author: Craig K. Comstock
Genre: Non Fiction, Biography
Publisher: Willow Press
Publishing date: 25th November, 2015
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
*e-ARC received from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Gift of Darkness” tells the story of a boy who, like Anne Frank, lived in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Unlike Anne, he was not taken into early hiding, but was able to move around the city, even to help serve its Jewish community, and observe first-hand the ominous things that were happening. Robbert Van Santen lived each day not knowing how or when the war would end, not being sure that he would survive, not imagining that as an elder he would articulate his experiences to an American author. To put one of Mary Oliver’s poetic phrases in a new context, his story is “a box full of darkness,” but in the telling he offers the author and the reader the gift of stepping into his shoes and thus the satisfaction of coming to understand a teenager’s challenging life. What did Robbert do afterward? He sought “to find joy in life despite what happened. Not instead of the memories, but as a response to them.
If you only look at Robbert’s experiences and focus on the events of the time then this is a good book but overall this is not that of an interesting read.
When you think of someone going through all this, it obviously tears your heart apart. Using present tense can make a person experience the ordeal while they read it but it gets exhausting at times. I don’t actually like present tense narration in fiction either, it takes out the story telling element which is what makes a book more enjoyable, atleast to me.
While the approach might be different and the reason logical to an extent it takes out the pleasure of reading. This approach might better suit a documentary because reading the past in past tense actually makes the story seem real. I don’t know if it’s just me but the tenses make or break the book. The message, the story might be good but the writing style is not well suited.
I kind of feel that narrating his life story in present tense might have been more painful for Robert.
I think it would’ve worked better as “as told to.”
I really liked the foreword of the book, it is written by Francis Weller, he explains the decision of writing the book in the particular way better than the author himself.
Now, if Robbert could talk about the facts detaching the feelings then he was already dealing with his grief. If you can separate the facts from the feelings it means you have come to terms with that experience to a certain extent. I get the, “to enter the grief and allow the full weight of sorrow to be felt and expressed,” this makes sense for using the present tense but then again if it was in first person it would’ve made more sense. When the story is being told in third person it automatically becomes “as told to” and the present tense seems irrelevant.
“The whole story must be told, reuniting the facts with the feelings.” Robbert wanted to delve out only facts so to get the feelings out this method might have been helpful in the interview but in the book, not so much.
This is the actual story I wanted the most focus on. This was the part I wanted to read when I started reading this book. The story of Robbert. The author’s thoughts, psychoanalysis, historic facts, information are all necessary but should’ve been secondary to the actual story but all of these stuff seem to push towards being the primary aspect of the book. I think in making this book worthy the author lost focus from the main element of the book. Yes, they decided to skip some parts, in a joking manner, but some of the things required more attention and details that was not provided to the parts. Some places it felt rushed when it came to Robbert’s story and some places it felt dragged when it was the author recounting the experiences he had with Robbert.
Yes, Anne’s story is heartbreaking but you don’t actually get to know about the state of the Jews, in this book you are amidst all the disaster. To get a glimpse of how life was for the people who couldn’t go into hiding, this book is a good start. 🙂 🙂
Why would I pick it up?
For Robbert! 🙂