Returning

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

I had a hell of a time following this book.  I didn't know who was talking most of the time and then there were parts of the book from someone who was never there but yet had PTSD and knew everything that happened.  I just was so lost.  I couldn't get into the book.  The parts that I could understand were wonderful (in an awful sense because of the details) but I understood the book then but all in all, it was a confused mess to me.
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I am not completely sure what in the world I just read. Was it a story of shared memory? Possession? Reincarnation? I just don’t know. What is clear is that Alex died in the gas chambers during WWII at the age of 17. Yael somehow has Alex’s memories and sees a rabbi to investigate whether or not the sins committed by Alex against the Jewish people are forgivable by God.  Confused yet?

The story of Alex is horrific. What that young man witnessed and was forced to do were heinous. The chapters covering Alex were philosophical and very difficult to read.  Much of the book left me confused as to who we were reading about now.  The chapters of letters served no purpose for me and added to my confusion.

Overall this was an extremely dark, difficult book to read. Much of it I just could not get into.
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I felt I had to stop reading this book at times, put it down for awhile to absorb what I had just read, but I couldn’t. It’s complex. It didn’t just evoke a visceral response, but it’s heady and philosophical and I found the nature of the narrative difficult to understand . I’ve read a lot of Holocaust fiction and a number of Holocaust survivor memoirs, and even after finishing it, I’m still trying to absorb what I have read. I didn’t understand Yael’s memories.  Perhaps there’s something much deeper than I am capable of understanding or something specific to Jewish beliefs. I don’t know. In an interview at the end of the book, Yael  is asked to categorize the book:  “I’ve stayed close enough to the actual course of events that my first inclination was to classify Returning quite firmly as an non-fiction memoir. There’s one problem, though: The whole issue of how I became entangled with Ovadya’s memories is something I have no real explanation for, and it obviously doesn’t fit into any of our conventional understandings of how the world works. Some people are going to have a hard time accepting this aspect of Returning as true, and ultimately it’s not important that they do.” It’s not that I don’t accept it. I just don’t understand it. In spite of that, there’s no way to give this anything less than 5 stars. However one reads this, Ovadya’s journey from the depth of guilt is just too powerful for anything less. What I do understand is the importance of this affecting story.

This is so different from any Holocaust story I have read. Ovidaya who can’t bring himself to use his name calls himself Alex, as he tells how at 17, he was rounded up to Birkenau with his family from Greece. Certainly the pain and suffering endured as a result of the horrific physical conditions at the camp and  the loss of his family were difficult to read about. The excruciating psychological burden of his experience in the camp as a Sonderkommando* was unbearable to read about.

*( “ work units made up of German Nazi death camp prisoners. They were composed of prisoners, usually Jews, who were forced, on threat of their own deaths, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during the Holocaust” Wiki) 


 Prior to this assignment, he was charged with herding his fellow Jews into the gas chamber and as he tells this, his guilt is palatable. This is not only a story of what it means to be a survivor, but a story of a survivor who bears the agony of feeling complicit in the deaths. What Ovadya saw inside the gas chambers is unspeakable, but yet he has to tell it and we have to read it, as horrific as it is because the memories have to survive. He has to tell it in order to heal and his correspondences with Masha, a woman who survived with giving her body to tge Nazis and with Rav Ish-Shalom as he seeks judgment and healing are soul searching, disturbing, haunting, as he tries to salvage something of himself when so much was lost. This is a book that will remain with me and I highly recommend it to anyone who reads Holocaust literature, but you need to be prepared for what you will read here. 

Thanks to my Goodreads friend Marialyce whose review led me to this book. 

I received a copy of this book from Kasva Press LLC through NetGalley.
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I had a hard time getting through this book, although the premise of it was absolutely exceptional. I loved the ideas of living memory and atonement, and even the characters, but length and the style of writing made this book more of a chore than a difficult and engaging read. 

That said, Returning is deep, insightful, and undeniably moving. I was brought to tears on more than on occasion, and stunted by disbelief equally as often. The elements of truth ring painfully true, and the pain and struggle endured by the characters resonates beyond anything else I've read before. 

I genuinely think this is a great book, and an important story, but unfortunately it just didn't click with me. For this reason I have decided not to share a full review on my media channels as I have no desire to spread negativity for something that didn't jive with my aesthetic. I have the feeling that this is the type of book that might need to be revisited again in the future, and that I might get more out of it then.
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I received a free copy from NetGalley.  This book is very difficult to read.  Not because it is poorly written, it is very well written, but because the topic of the Holocaust is so very, very difficult to read about at the emotional and detailed level that this book describes it.  But it is story that needs to told, even if you need to take breaks to get through the whole book.  Well worth the struggle to get through it, it is a piece of history we don't dare forget, and this is very well done.
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Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for review. 
This one really didn't catch my interest until it got to Yael and her part of the story. 
Cant get into it very much maybe because I want to really know how things were there and this is just giving a slight idea.
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Absolutely stunning. This book will touch your soul. Thanks to Kasva Press and to Netgalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This book was a little hard to get into and understand. The story is constantly flipping back and forth between characters, letters, emails, memories, and different time periods. That is the only reason I deducted a star.
That said, the story was gut wrenching and raw. It was not an easy read and had to take a break from it multiple times.
The main character is a kid (and adult depending on the time period) who now goes by the name of Alex. He was forced to do things during the Holocaust that has made him feel guilty ever since. This story is about him seeking forgiveness and redemption for things he considers unforgivable.
Although this was a sadly graphic read, it is one I will never forget.
Thanks to Net Gallery and the publisher for the chance to read the harrowing memoir.
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I found this book confusing to read, we switch back and forth between Alex, his correspondence with Masha, and Yael. It was hard to figure out who was talking or what timeframe you were in, past or present and who was writing the letters if you didn’t know the type of “font” that was appearing at that time. But I did truly enjoy Yael’s character the most, with her visions and descriptions of what she was experiencing and feeling. I would get lost in Alex. I also struggled in the very beginning, the story did not catch or hold my attention until it once got to Yael’s chapters, and I found Alex’s chapters deeply philosophical and hard to understand. 
This is a very deep, haunting, dark story. Of all the holocaust books I have read, this was the most difficult one. I would have to lay it down and come back to it. Not that I feel the story didn’t need told, it is a real haunting story of guilt, and actions performed due to choices beyond your own control. How do you ask for forgiveness or live with yourself knowing what you have seen or done, but the choices made would possibly designate whether you lived or died. Certainly not a pleasure read. 
I was given the opportunity to read and review this book from Kasva Press through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. This one gets 3***’s.
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5 unimaginable stars

God must have been on leave during the Holocaust. (Simon Wiesenthal)

This was one of the most significant memoirs that I have ever read. It transcends the words written to put you, the reader, into the heart, mind, and soul of Alex, a man destined to survive the unendurable, to lack the ability to forgive himself, and to look for help through the religion that seemed to have abandoned him. This is a story of Alex, a man who will tell you his story, tell you his unbearable pain, and find in himself the way to see himself as a survivor no matter how the Nazis tried to take his very soul. This is the man of Returning.

It is so very hard for one to imagine being a survivor, being the one person who came through while millions of others perished. One bears the guilt, the knowledge of events so horrendous that reading of them turns one's heart and mind towards revulsion over the fact that men and women did this to other men and women simply to follow an ideology that was racist in its most heinous degree. We have to keep reminding ourselves that what Alex relates eventually, through the help of a Jewish teacher, is not some bizarre piece of fiction, it was reality. It was Alex's reality and his reality is the fact that each and everyday, Alex lived every second in a nightmare world worse than any that could be conceived by anyone.

This was a story of Alex's search for forgiveness. He was a part of the Sonderkommando, forced to work in the most abhorrent condition, that of watching his fellow Jews, men, women, children, and infants condemned to the gas chambers. Hearing their screams, cleaning up the chamber after the destruction of the gas, Alex witnessed daily the role of evil that men succumbed to. He saw cruelty that was unimaginable, death that was inevitable, and life that was so devalued wondering where in this hell was God? How could God have let this carnage happen?

Alex loses everything, family, love, self respect, and the will to find God in his survival. He consoled himself for a time with the concept that he was alive to tell the story, to relate the atrocities, to be a bearer of the souls that were extinguished. However, for Alex and those like him, their survival took a horrendous toil. How could he possibly find his way once again in the world after the way he lived and what he bore witness to at seventeen years old during his time at Auschwitz?

“The fact that good people can be forced to do wrong doesn’t make them less good. But it also doesn’t make the wrong less wrong.”

It was an extremely difficult story to read, oftentimes requiring me to put aside the story as I thought of the heinousness of what Alex related. I can never understand how we, who consider ourselves members of the human could ever have let this happen. This continues to be is unfathomable, that ability to do unto others what was done to these people.

I recommend this memoir most highly. Reading this memoir is a journey through the hell that meet Alex and others everyday. It is a reminder to all that barbarity, wickedness, and monstrosities existed and still do to this very day.

Thank you to Yael Shofar, who has written a story that was passionately related, yet agonizing to read. Thank you also to Kasva Press LLC, and NetGalley for a copy of this emotionally heartrending story.

“It’s true that the hatred is still there. But it doesn’t change anything. Our obligations are the same—to live and sanctify all life with our own. To participate in the world the best we know how, leaving it a better place than we found it. To raise families and teach our children to value life. What more can we do? Should we refuse to live because of the threat of death hanging over us? We’ve always been under sentence of death. Every generation that lives out its days in peace is a victory. Every day we live is a victory.”
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This is different than any other book I have ever read.  It is the story of Ovadya ben Malka (who now goes by Alex), who was just 17 when he and his mother and sister were taken from their home in Salonika and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland where his family was killed immediately.  Somehow he managed to survive there and eventually became a worker for the Germans at the camp, helping to kill thousands and thousands of Jewish people in the gas chambers.  What he was brutally forced to do to stay alive has haunted him throughout his entire life and he seeks forgiveness and peace in his soul.  I am not a scholar nor am I Jewish, so much of this book was foreign to me except the historical memories that Alex shared--which from his point of view were practically unbearable to read and imagine.   I did have a hard time figuring out who was who outside of Alex and the Rabbi he did extensive study with in order to achieve forgiveness and understand all that he had lived through.  I am guessing that Yael, the author is his daughter but I didn't ever read that clearly anywhere.  I am SO glad that I read Alex's story because it was not only honest and sometimes graphic, but heart-breakingly sad as he looks to his Rabbi for guidance in relieving the guilt he has carried so long, and it will be etched in my mind for a long time coming.  The writing is beautiful even though the story is so complicated and extensive, it is also very spiritual and enlightening.  Definitely an epic book, not to be missed.
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I feel that this book should be read by everyone. At only 17 Alex was forced to perform vile and vicious acts at Auschwitz in order to save his life. He was the only member of his family to survive the atrocities at this concentration camp. He didn’t tell anyone about what he did, until  much later when he felt he needed redemption. He confided with Rav Shalom by emails. Alex tells his  truth about what happened at Auschwitz in a way I’ve never read before. This is an excellently written book. I highly recommend it. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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While I enjoyed the individual "story lines" I feel that Ovadya/Alex's story was lost in the shuffle.
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I couldn’t get into this book, found it confusing, did not finish.. My star rating is not accurate, since I didn’t finish, but it won’t let me submit an opinion without a star rating.
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Would you have been able to send your fellow jews into a burning furnace and later shovel out their ashes to save your life?   Alex at only 17 and his family were forced on a cramped, train, little food or water and no toilets on a journey to Auschwitz, a place most of us cannot imagine.  He was forced to perform vile and vicious acts to save his life.    Millions of Jews were killed in the most cruel way possible.   He, but no other members of his family survived.

He could not tell anyone about what he had done, but later in life wanted some sort of atonement and redemption..  He told his story through emails to Rav Shalom.  You will also meet Yael, she was not old enough to have been in the war, but was also looking for some redemption, from her acts of prostition, which she performed to save her life.  The book is not for everyone as it details some of the horrific acts at Auschwitz, but one that should be read in the hope that we never treat any group of people in such a discusting, obscene way.  Really there are no words to describe the atrocities.
An excellently written book.   Read it if you can.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy. 
I found this book engaging and heartbeaking. It tells the story of choices made in a concentration camp and how he deals with that for the rest of his life.
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This a book that I feel everyone should read. It tells the story of a young boy questioning if breaking a commandment to save his life while in Auschwitz was okay. It is a book unlike I have ever read. I highly recommend it.

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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This book is a man’s hearts cry for what he had to experience, he became a changed man when he was ripped away from his home and family.
He tells his story to Rav Ish Shalom in emails. Alex was asking Rav Shalom for a “psak din”, meaning that Alex felt that he needed to know if he was right in transgressing a commandment to save his own life during his imprisonment in Auschwitz.
Alex meets Rav Ish Shalom in person, and they discuss guilt, repentance, and Alex’s past experiences along with studying the Mishnah, and Alex realized that even though he was forced by the Germans to perform grisly duties and even hold people as they were shot, he too has guilt and complicity. He could have made a choice to die instead of working as a sonderkommando according to Jewish law.
You will also meet Yael, a girl who has  Alex’s memories of being at Auschwitz but she was born in 1962, so she was born too late to have been there.

The author calls himself Alex, but his mother called him Ovadya which means “servant of God.”
Alex grew up in Saloniki, Greece until he was 17, in a Turkish section of the city and he and his neighbors got along well. But Alex was born at the wrong time, the Germans invaded Salonika and Alex and his family were taken in a hot, filthy train to Birkenau - Auschwitz, where he was separated from his family and taken to the Quarantine section of the camp. Alex poignantly describes what it was like to live there, the overcrowding, the constant smell and sight of urine and diarrhea, being stripped of one’s humanity and citizenship, and being inhumanely tattooed with a number.
When you hear Alex’s description of how his fellow Jews died in the gas chamber you will be appalled and grieved as it is so tragic and horrific a description. 
His description of the work that a Sonderkommando had to perform is mind numbing, you will wonder how they made it through one day!
Alex tells the truth about what happened at Auschwitz in a way that few previous survivors have told it, you will be totally convinced of the cruelty and inhumanity of Hitler’s butchers and that the Jewish people suffered unimaginable horrors which must never be allowed to happen again to anyone! Am Yisrael Chai!
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