Book Review: The Gift

Book: The Gift

Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir

Author: Ita Willen

Cover Critique:

The cover is as simple and effective as it should be. It shows the picture of Ita Willen’s grandmother, which shows a striking resemblance with her own picture given inside the book.


This book is a memoir of a survivor of the atrocious crime of Holocaust. Those of you who would like to jitter their memory and know what exactly this book is about, I am going to make things easier for you and present you with the gist of this historical event:

“The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. "Holocaust" is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community. 

During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived "racial inferiority": Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic people (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.” – (Courtesy: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Website) 

Now, let’s talk about the book. This memoir starts with a Prologue and ends with an Epilogue. The chapters are named after the four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall which metaphorically explain that life itself is like the continuous cycle of Nature, it moves on, no matter what. Before Prologue, the writer quotes a line of Nietzsche, “We have art in order not to die of the truth”. This gave me a feeling that in spite of the fact that this book is going to be about the tragic, heinous and ugly events of Holocaust told from the eyes of a child who came out as a survivor, it will still have an optimistic approach towards life and I was right.

In the Prologue, the writer sets the mood for heart-wrenching events described in the following chapters of the book by saying, “I am afraid of opening wounds. I am afraid of onrush of emotion. I am afraid the survivor will begin to tell me about everyone he lost and overflow with pain at the memories. I am afraid the survivor will fall apart on me into a weeping heap of bones.”

I loved her honest and straight-forward approach of writing. As I moved on to the chapters one by one, I felt sympathetic towards her loss as she goes on to describe how she lost her family members in Holocaust with vivid descriptions of death camps, especially Auschwitz concentration camp.

But the book is not just about these tragic losses, it is more about her views on life in the aftermath of that incident that changed her life. She not only debates about various religions from Judaism, Hinduism, Islam to Buddhism and Dalai Lama’s but also refers to many philosophers while trying to explain her way of perceiving things in life. While I may not agree with many of her judgements on various religions, I was still extremely interested to read more and find out how she interprets various concepts.

The beauty of her thoughts lies in her ideology of “hope” and seeing the “good” in things in spite of carrying the burden of dreadful memories of Holocaust. As she says, “Anyone can look beautiful or hideous depending on what you want to see in them....If I were a photographer I would try to capture the miraculous, the elegance of nature, the beauty of things, the goodness of people, the innocence of children, the wisdom of age, the Zen quality of even resignation.”

She talks about post- Holocaust trips to India, Nepal, Tibet and refers to pre-Holocaust bliss of her childhood in Poland with so much intensity and passion that I felt I was able to visualize things and events as she told them. She quotes about the inhuman conditions of Auschwitz many times in her book, but always in a way that surprises me. I can’t help but quote a few lines to capture the positive effect that it caused on my outlook on life.

It is pretty much the crux of her memoir, she says, “The whole problem with people who had an easy childhood and have no image of Auschwitz in their minds is that they don’t see that the ordinary world in which one is safe and fed and loved and sheltered is extraordinary. I realised suddenly what a wonderful effect the Holocaust has had on me. To be alive and healthy and free is like a miracle. Normal life is a miracle. That is the great gift I have received.”

There are so many lines and paras that I would love to quote to share with my readers, but that is not possible. Those of us who have interest in history and politics, would definitely like to read this wonderfully written memoir. It is insightful and thought-provoking. It does not matter whether your views match with hers or not, the whole point is the overall impact of her book, which is that one should be grateful and cherish every moment of life.

It is written in a poignant and literary style, which made me finish this book in one sitting. It also shows her inclination towards philosophy as she refers to Freud, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Dante and many others while dictating her doctrine. Though I may have found some of concepts outdated or ridiculous but then everyone’s experiences in life make them what they are and how they think.

So, the book gave me a frame of reference which I had not witnessed before, and a familiarity and knowledge which added to my awareness of things around me, about various aspects of life and most obviously, about the writer and her life. The book is worth a read for lovers of literature, history, comparative religions and philosophy.

Review Girl Rating: 9/10

“I would like to thank Sandra Sanchez of “The Wessex Collective” Publishing House as well as the author of this book Ita Willen for sending me a free copy of her book, “The Gift” for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. To buy this book on Amazon, click here.” 

About the Author: 
Ita Willen was born in Poland in 1945, has a BA in philosophy from University of Texas in Austin and currently resides in Colorado. She was named for her paternal grandmother who died in a concentration camp, exact time and place unknown. In 1972 Random House published The Grubbag, a collection of weekly columns she wrote (under the name Ita Jones) for the Liberation News Service from 1968-70. 


  1. Thank you Komal for this excellent review. You really got the message this author wanted to convey. I also wanted to mention that interested readers can order a new copy or copies of The Gift directly from me by clicking on our website above. I do give multiple book discounts. Thanks again, Sandy

  2. I almost forgot to mention perhaps because I am old and certainly technically challenged as they say but one among us was able to successfully surf this wave of the future that has threatened to drown the rest of us and now all our wessex books including The Gift are available as ebooks at: https://secure.digitalcontentcenter.com/shop/627321/products.
    Thanks again!

  3. Great review! Makes me want to read the book. Love historical accounts. The description and message here sound uplifting.

  4. @mindfulmonica: Thanks for enjoying my review. I am happy that you find it helpful in deciding whether to read the book or not.
    On another note, I really like you id name:mindful monica..kewl!;)

  5. Komal, another great review. I love the way you capture the atmosphere and the powerful story of this book. It sounds like a must-read and a very fascinating story...

  6. @Barbara: Your comments made my day! Thanks a lot for encouraging me and my style of reviewing!:)


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