First Person Survival Accounts

Oh my goodness! I didn’t write anything during all of October? Oh my.
Well, to those who were expecting a post in October, I apologize. I guess I’ve just been busy (one conference in Europe and one convention in Vancouver, plus my PhD stuff).

I don’t know what to talk about today, really, but seeing as I haven’t written anything in so long, I thought I’d just ramble.

I love reading. Like, a lot. I think that, really, I have a warm fire in my heart that comes from knowing that I’ll always be generally happy…since, I’ll probably always be able to read, and that’s one of the things that I know I’ll always enjoy. So that makes me happy. Usually I read an equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction. Recently I haven’t been able to get into any fiction. I read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which I didn’t really care for. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that man can write, but I just didn’t really get into it, even as I finished the last page. Oh well. [note: oh, I also read Jilenek‘s The Piano Teacher. I know that that kind of book isn’t for everyone, but I really liked that this book was about a character who has been sexually repressed and doesn’t know what it means to love someone and be loved by someone, and she ultimately finds someone who thinks she’s a freak, and she doesn’t know how to react….and it ultimately ends in sadness… Check it out, if you can handle an unrelentingly sad novel…]

As I’m always reading two books at once, one fiction and one non-fiction, I’ve been reading a lot [note: actually, only 2 (3 if you count both of Levi’s books), but I plan on reading many more] of non-fictional first person accounts of survival of genocides and atrocities in the place of my fictional book. Needless to say, it’s been pretty depressing.

I read Primo Levi‘s Surviving Auschwitz. I’ve written about Primo Levi before (I think). I read his Periodic Table, which was an autobiography in which each chapter was an element that he related to a time in his life. It wasn’t very good. However, his Auschwitz account was very good. The first part was not very interesting, but his account of his last 10 days is incredible. He became sick shortly before the Russians invaded and the Nazis took all the healthy prisoners and marched them in retreat. Levi describes how he feels he was extraordinarily lucky to have gotten sick when he did, because he says he is certain he would have died on those marches. Levi goes on to describe how he and other sick inmates had to search out for food, wood, a stove, etc. in an attempt to save himself and others. The camp quickly goes to shit, almost literally: since so many were sick, most essentially lost control of their bowels everywhere. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was winter and freezing cold, he says that they would have all been dead (since all the shit would freeze).

The other book I read was First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung, a child survivor from Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took over. This poor girl was five when Pol Pot took over, and ends up losing her Mother, her Father, two siblings, becomes a child soldier, is almost raped, continuously starves, and more, and throughout is able to describe all these events as they appear to a child. One of the most interesting parts is when she describes stealing rice from the family food store, and from that point forward feels guilty that her younger sister is so skinny and malnourished. The story ends with her escaping to Thailand (if my memory serves me) and eventually making it to the US (when she’s..10? I can’t remember).

Next I want to read The Kolyma Tales, by Varlam Shalamov, a survivor of a siberian gulag in Soviet Russia; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the most famous account of a gulag survivor; and The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang, which, I know isn’t a first person account, but still, an account nonetheless. OH, I also want to read Haruki Murakami’s historical fiction book on the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway called Underground. 

If you’ve never read a first person account of any of the atrocities that took place in the 20th century, other than Anne Frank’s diary, I strongly suggest that you pick one up. As much as it’s nice to know all the facts and statistics about all the horrible things that happened (and are happening), it’s hard to connect unless you read a person’s actual account of the events. It’s truly incredible.


About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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