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An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941–43

by Etty Hillesum
Persephone book no:

4 5 6


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TRANSLATED BY ARNOLD J. POMERANS
INTRODUCTION BY JAN G. GAARLANDT
PREFACE BY EVA HOFFMAN
464pp
ISBN 9780953478057 

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941–43 is undoubtedly one of the most important pieces of writing published by Persephone Books.

Etty Hillesum lived in Amsterdam and, like Anne Frank, she kept a diary as life for Jews became more and more restricted and, finally, doomed. The first months of the diaries are largely about her affairs with two (older) men and in fact there is nothing depressing either about the diaries or the letters she wrote from the transit camp at Westerbork. They are deeply sad; but - and there is no way of avoiding the cliché - uplifting. ‘An unknown young woman,’ observes Eva Hoffman in her Preface, ‘became one of the most exceptional and honest witnesses of the devastation through which she lived.

'All the writings she left behind,' Hoffman continues, 'were composed in the shadow of the Holocaust, but they resist being read primarily in its dark light. Rather, their abiding interest lies in the light-filled mind that pervades them and in the astonishing internal journey they chart. Etty's pilgrimage grew out of the intimate experience of an intellectual young woman - it was idiosyncratic, individual, and recognisably modern... The private person who revealed herself in her diary was impassioned, erotically volatile, restless... Yet she had the kind of genius for introspection that converts symptoms into significance and joins self-examination to philosophical investigation... In the last stages of her amazing and moving journey, Etty seemed to attain that peace which passeth understanding... Finally, however, the violence and brutality she saw all around her overwhelmed even her capacity to understand... But by knowing and feeling so deeply and fully, an unknown young woman became one of the most exceptional and truest witnesses of the devastation through which she lived.'

Endpaper

The fabric, by Otti Berger (d. Auschwitz 1944), a Bauhaus designer living in Holland, could have been Etty's bedspread; the stripes running across the muted, if cheerful, pattern have the effect of barbed-wire.


Read What Readers Say

Church Times

An extraordinary mixture of nobility, spirituality and Bridget Jones.

Rowan Williams, formerly the Archbishop of Canterbury

An absorbing document which chronicles a complex sexual and emotional life, a deepening immersion in Rilke and Dostoevsky and a religious conversion of a very unconventional order.

Anna via Goodreads

Etty Hillesum’s extraordinary diary and letters are a chronicle of the Holocaust unlike any other I’ve read. They are devastating, uplifting, and above all distinctive. Her voice comes through so clearly and powerfully… the phrase from the book that most struck me is this: ‘Somewhere deep inside me is a workshop in which Titans are forging a new world’. That's one of the most beautiful expressions of hope that I have ever read. I can hardly recommend Etty Hillsum’s writing highly enough.

Categories: Abroad Biography Diaries History Politics Translations WWII

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