Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

Title: Heidegger's Glasses
Author: Thaisa Frank

Genre: Fiction (Historical)

Love/Hate?: Loved.  Totally one of my top 10 of 2010.
Rating: 5/5
Did I finish?:  YES.
One-sentence summary: Translators living in an underground compound write letters for the dead during the end of World War II.

Why did I get this book?: I was actually intrigued by the Heidegger connection but found the book was way more than just a look at the philosopher.
Source: TLC Book Tours

Do I like the cover?: Yes. 

Did...I find I could understand this novel despite being totally ignorant about philosophy?: YES.  There's a philosopher as a character and some lovely passages that have a sort of philosophical bent to them, but the writing and the plot grab you immediately.

Was...I reminded a little of Michael Ondaatje and Jeanette Winterson?: YES.  The book is delicate without being precious or overwrought; the essence of the story is there without being too thin or leaving the reader at arm's length.

Did...this book make me sad?: YES.  BUT IN THE BEST WAY.  I've been telling friends the feel of this book is a kind of poignant, bittersweet sadness that you want to savor a little -- not the kind of misery that ruins your weekend.  I promise.

Review:  Some where in my childhood, I remember seeing a PSA-style poster extolling the awesomeness of reading by saying you'll always remember the first time something you read made you cry.  Even though I'm a softie, I do still recall -- quite vividly -- the pieces that have moved me deeply: Kurt Schork's Reuters piece about 'Romeo and Juliet' killed on Sarajevo's Vrbana Bridge; Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body; a breakup letter from my first adult love; and now, Thaisa Frank's gorgeous novel.

That said, please, please don't let the possibility of sorrow or sadness scare you away from picking up this book.  Books about the Holocaust promise unhappiness and I steeled myself for some passages that would disgust or scare or horrify me; instead, Frank presents a story of the Holocaust in a delicate, deft way that allows pain and fear and deep sadness without making one want to jump off a bridge upon finishing.  (In fact, when I finished, I just wanted to sit with a cup of tea and sniff with a cat in my lap.  I wanted to savor the bittersweet, heartbreaking poignancy.  I'm getting teary again just recalling it!)

The premise of the story is unbelievable and fascinating: the 'Scribes', sixty translators plucked from death or trips to the camps due only to chance and their ability to speak more than one language, live in an underground compound designed to resemble a bucolic village, tasked with writing letters to the living relatives of those killed at the camps.  Managed by three SS officers who are more a part of the community than separate from it, the novel follows the events put into motion when Martin Heidegger's wife makes a ruckus about wanting to hear from a family friend, a man who was taken to Auschwitz.

Frank very quickly evokes the world of late World War II Germany, with it's mixture of grim efficiency and slavish devotion to the occult.  Heidegger and his philosophical musings stick out as cruelly self-introspective and even inappropriate (there's a particularly moving scene in which he wants to discuss Being with a man just recently escaped from Auschwitz).  What makes the story touching and human is that within this huge, horrible, sad event, she presents the small, every day battles and victories of the 'Scribes': loneliness, fear, desire, jealousy, the wish to belong, the awareness of what has been lost, surviving, finding love, human connection.  

Courtesy of the publisher, I have a copy of Heidegger’s Glasses to give away!  To enter, please leave a comment with your email address (U.S. or Canada, only, sorry!) before November 29th.  The winner will be contacted then.  For a chance at additional entries, be sure to come back on November 15th for my interview with Thaisa Frank.


  1. Wow. Your review is incredible! A reading experience like that doesn't come along every day and I'm definitely putting this one at the top of my TBR after reading your amazing review. Thank you so much for being on the tour.

  2. Lisa -- Thank you! I was really just blown away by this book -- it had all the elements I really love -- that gorgeous writing, a bittersweet romance, historical gravitas -- delish! I hated finishing it, you know??

  3. I usually can't deal with books dealing with the Holocaust - they're just too heartbreaking and rage inducing - but this premise is fascinating and your review makes it sound like a truly beautiful book. I'm definitely putting this one on my TBR. And in that vein, I'll enter the giveaway!

    empty (dot) chords @ gmail. com

  4. Top 10 of 2010?! Well, that's an endorsement! Thanks for the giveaway!


    bravenewgirl (at) gmail (dot) com

  5. This book sounds unique and I'd love to read it.
    Thanks for the chance.

    niteofblu at gmail dot com

  6. I have been wanting to read this book! Please throw my name in the hat!


  7. Please add my name to hat! Thanks.

  8. I've been following the tour for this book and each review makes me look forward to reading this book.

    undermyappletree at gmail dot com

  9. Everyone -- thanks for your support -- this is a marvelous book. Do check out my interview with Ms Frank for another entry in my giveaway!

  10. I am drawn to stories of the Holocaust, but your review makes this one sound exceptional. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    Theintrovertedreader at gmail dot com

  11. Thank you for including me. =)
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  12. I must admit to being put off by the remarks about philosophy but on reading further I am rather intruiged.

    I would like to try this book.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

    I Follow via GFC (buddyt)

  13. This book sounds wonderful! Excellent review! Thanks for visiting my blog. While I'm here I might as well enter the giveaway - even if it is a book that will make me cry!
    Let Them Read Books

  14. Great review! This book sounds awesome!
    (Don't enter me in the contest, because I'm international.)

    Giada M.

    fabgiada (at) gmail (dot) com

  15. I am enthralled with books dealing with the horror of the hollocost. Maybe it's for the empathy factor and the gratitude of my blessings.
    Ke7yca at gmail dot com

  16. Thanks for the review. This books sounds really good although sad. Please enter me in this contest.

  17. would love to read the book.



  18. What a beautifully written review! I agree with you completely. I just absolutely loved it.

    I hope it's okay to link to your review on the WWII book reviews page on War Through the Generations. I'll get it on there soon.

  19. That sounds like a really interesting premise for a book. I'd be very interested in reading it!

    autumn.crochet @gmail. com

  20. I have never heard of this book, but reading your review, I now want it.

  21. @Anna/diaryofaneccentric -- thank you -- I would be flattered! I've added the two lists of review to my book collections page as well.

  22. I would love to read this book Im very intriged,

  23. This book sounds really interesting. I'd love to read it.

    jlynettes @ hotmail . com

  24. awesome review deff have to check thisbook out its not in the genera i normally read but ur review sold me on it

  25. What a great review. This isn't in my usual genre (fantasy) but it sounds so intriguing that I would love to read it. Who doesn't love those books that touch you so deeply and leave you still feeling so strongly about the story even days, months, or years later. Thanks for recommending this as I'm sure I wouldn't have found it otherwise, it being outside my preferred genre!

  26. This looks amazing! hyalineblue079 at yahoo dot com. Can't wait to read this one!

  27. Great review :D Thanks for this and the gratitude giveaway :) I haven't heard of this book before, but I do like historical fiction and it seems like you liked this a little lol.

  28. Well, I wasn't going to read this one...but maybe I should give it a shot! Nice review

  29. Nice review. I actually like reading books about the holocaust ...yes sad but you go out learning about the strength and perseverence in people ...then I'm humbled again and not complain so much on the little things in life. =]

    Thanks for the chance to win this book. ~Have a happy Thanksgiving!

    Jinky is Reading
    ldsmomof03 at yahoo dot com

  30. Sounds great!

    ashleysbookshelf at gmail dot com

  31. You got me intrigued .I wanna know more...

    Can't wait to read the Interview..

  32. Great review. This book sounds tragically sad, but very interesting. I don't read outside of YA very often, but I may just have to for this.

  33. I've never heard of this book but it sounds really good!

  34. Amazing review. I haven't heard of this book until now. Sounds fantastic. Count me in.

    Thanks for the chance to win.
    BookNoise at gmail dot com

  35. Nice review , I am curious about this book
    I wish one publisher here will buy the right of this book and translate it