Just finished the final edits on my 85 y.o. mother-in-law's Holocaust memoir. She's an amazing woman. She speaks frequently to middle and high school classes (who seem to relate to her story because she was their age during the Nazi Reign of Terror). Not the usual Hatrack fare, but since it has occupied nearly all my writing time the last month, I thought I'd share the first thirteen:
November 10, 1938. I know it was a Thursday. I was 12 years old, combing my hair in front of the mirror and getting ready for school. My father returned home from the Synagogue, just as he had done each day to say the traditional Kaddish prayer for my grandparents who had passed away earlier in the year. But that morning was different. As he walked through the door, he turned to me and said, “You don’t have to go to school today. They burned the Synagogue.” This was my first experience of terror, my first real blow. Somehow, deep in the recesses of my soul, I grasped that life, as I knew it, was going to change forever.
I think it may be saying both too much and too little to say "the traditional Kaddish prayer"; it's quite clear in context that it is a prayer and what else but a "traditional" prayer would be said in a Synagogue? What might not be clear is that saying Mourner's Kaddish is obligatory, if perhaps not mandatory. So "obligatory Kaddish" perhaps?
I agree with C@R3Y when he points out that the following is a problem: "Somehow, deep in the recesses of my soul, I grasped that life, as I knew it, was going to change forever."
This is asking a lot of the reader, among other things imagining what it feels like to have access to the deep recesses of your soul.
This sentence also uses what I call "state of mind qualifiers": "I GRASPED that life, as I KNEW it, was going to change forever." SOMQs like "realized", "saw", "understood" and so on call reader attention to a change in the state of the POV's belief or understanding. They're useful (but not necessary) when you have been focusing on a prior, mistaken belief: "We had thought it would never happen here, but now we knew it would." The focus can be implicit, so long as it is obvious: "I reached to shake his hand, then realized he was holding a blood knife in it."
But otherwise, these words are just non-functional rhetorical appendages. The problem is that they have a habit of cropping up just when you want to say something powerful. You don't want to dilute it with lexical fluff and you don't want focus drifting off in an irrelevant direction.
Deleting these words nearly always makes a sentence more powerful and immediate. You could say above, "At that moment, my life changed forever," or "From that moment, nothing would be the same."
One rhetorical technique you could apply here is to repeatedly drive home how routine and every detail of the morning is up until father gives her the news that they burned down the Synagogue. That allows you to emphasize disorientation of the change: "Until that moment everything had gone the same as always; after it nothing would ever be the same."
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Thank you both. As I shared, I merely proofread and made basic edits to the text as I did not wish to change her words or her voice. I thought about doing a "hard" edit, like I do for the stories I critique here, but I decided "no."
The book will be cooperatively published this Spring by a Maine publisher, and will be available on Amazon also as an electronic book. Proceeds to go to The Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center.
PD, Her memoir begins on Kristallnact (The Night of Broken Glass) November 1938 in her home town of Worms on the Rhine, Germany. In the course of this short work, she is transported to Duisburg, Terezein, Aushwitz, Stutthoff, the Russian Front and post-War to America. She was a teenager at the time.
C@R3Y, The missus just digitized the photos for her Mom's book. The cover's done. We're sending it off to the publisher next week. Then their editor goes through it and gives feedback. I suspect a Spring publication, and will be glad to let everyone know. Any proceeds go to charity, btw.
I must admit, it is interesting, not only in the subject, but in her narrative voice. It is not an emotional dramatization but an honest recounting, a testimony simply told. Voyeurs will be disappointed, but her intended audience (students and family) I hope will be content.
A day of highs and lows. While my WOTF entry rebounded with a dull thud, my mother-in-law's Holocaust memoir arrived after months of editing, map and geneology creation, photo layout preparation, and back cover copy. It looks great and is just in time for Holocaust Rememberance Day (today). A few copies have been catalog ordered by state bookstores within the first few hours of its availability by the distributor (see cover and blurb at: http://maineauthorspublishing.com/productpages/Pagelson_AgainstAllOdds.html )
It will be another week before I finish the legal work to have the book available through Amazon with a "Look Inside" feature (as all proceeds will benefit the Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center). I estimate it will be two-three weeks before a Kindle/Ebook version will be ready.
Edith now has the book to share for the spring school session. She's been speaking to school children of all ages for a few decades and many ask if she had abook--and now she does The book is targetted especially well for this age group, even though our motivation was to preserve her story for her family. At 85, she is getting frail, and it is sad to think that there are so few Survivors remaining for children (and adults) to hear their stories and ask their questions first hand, to have the visceral connection to the events in their textbooks when they see and touch the black ink numbers that had been forcibly tatooed on her forearm.
The last four months have been my second foray with independent publishing (the latter was thirty years ago). It was again a learning experience and a lot of work--but it has all been worth it to see Edith's gratitude and her sense of accomplishment, of creating a legacy, and knowing that her story will not be forgotten.
That is kind, EVOC. The e-book will be cheaper (and still all Edith's proceeds will go to charity).
I need also clarify I did not write the memoir, only edited/revised and prepared it for publication et al (as described above). We hired a ghostwriter to work with Edith (financially not a bad gig, btw--though not enough to entice me from my primary profession as yet).