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A Hidden Life: A Memoir of August 1969

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  • Posted March 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Beautifully Written Book

    I don't think I've ever before encountered a more heartbreakingly intriguing true story. The author Johanna Reiss was hidden from the Nazi's insane dragnet as a Jewish child in Holland during World War II. In 1969 and As a married woman, and at the urging of her husband Jim, who recognized a great story when he heard one, Johanna returned to the Netherlands to begin research for her book, which was published years later as the beautiful children's book "The Upstairs Room" and introduced the world to the wonderful family that hid her, the Oostervelds, who could have been executed for hiding Johanna and her sister. I've always wondered why "The Upstairs Room" was never made into a movie when if any book should ever be dramatized, it's definitely that one. Naturally Johanna's World War II situation begs the question: how did the Oosterveld family manage to rise to the occasion of doing the right thing during such a perilous and indecent time? Johanna's husband joins her for part of the trip back to Holland to attempt to find out, keeps making a point of telling her that he loves her, over and over again, which begins to set off Johanna's alarm bells, then he leaves early and returns to the United States.

    Once home, Jim goes to work, spends time with friends, and makes a point of telling the ones he spent the last day of his life with that it was "the best day of his life." Then he returns to the family's apartment and seemingly out of nowhere commits suicide. Poor Johanna is left alone with two children and with even more questions.

    What I was left with, while reading this, was an incredible amount of respect for Johanna's strength and for the goodness that clearly was Jim. He made such a point of making certain his wife knew he loved her, and also making sure that his friends knew he'd had a wonderful day with them, in both cases knowing these were his parting words to them. It's clear that whatever else was tormenting him, and this was obviously a very tormented man, he still chose to be as kind as he could to the people he cared for the most, right up until the last possible moment. I was left wishing that he'd given himself a lot more time on Earth because this particular man probably could have added a lot of much-needed good to the world.

    As did Johanna Reiss, by writing this. I for one am looking forward to whatever she writes next and cannot recommend this book enough.

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