How did it feel to be a prisoner in Auschwitz, always cold, always hungry, always less than human?

How did it feel to be in a rehabilitation center, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a criminal?

If it is possible, through the simple art of telling, to allow another person to understand the awful reality of these sufferings, I believe these two books come as close as possible to accomplishing that feat.

Survival in Auschwitz,
previously called If This is a Man, was translated from the Italian (Se Questo e un Homo) in 1958 by Giulio Einaudi, and written by Primo Levi who was in Auschwitz in 1944. Levi lived in Turin, Italy, from 1919 to 1987. He was an Italian citizen of the Jewish race and spent ten months in a concentration camp until he was liberated by the Red army.   Six hundred  Italian Jews entered at that time. Twenty left.

In October, 1944, he writes:

We know what it means because we were here last winter, and the others will soon learn. It means that in the course of these months, from October till April, seven out of ten of us will die.   Whoever does not die will suffer minute by minute, all day, every day:  from the morning before dawn until the distribution of the evening soup, we will have to keep our muscles continually tensed, dance from foot to foot, beat our arms under our shoulders against the cold..

This is a sickening, raw, day by day account of man’s inhumanity to man.  He adds:  “To me it seems unnecessary to add that none of the facts are invented.”  With good reason this book is said to be required reading for many courses and curriculums throughout the world.

A Million Little Pieces

I watched the Oprah program in which she told author James Frey how upset she was to find out that this “autobiographical” book was embellished and sometimes fabricated to make a better story.  “I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require,”  Frey says.  Somehow the interview made me want to read A Million Little Pieces and my daughter was kind enough to give it to me for my birthday.

That said, it is apparent that there is a lot of “been there, done that” in Frey’s story and he knows whereof he writes.  This national bestseller is also the most vulgar book I’ve ever read with what sometimes seems  to be an “in your face” vulgarity.    It seems that every other word is fuck.  What kept me reading it to the end?

First, James wants to get clean but wants to do it on his own, with his own will power.  James’ counselor tells him that no one gets clean and stays clean who doesn’t take seriously the Twelve Steps Program. James feels that relying on a Higher Power (of any name or kind) is just another kind of addiction.  He does find comfort with a little book about Tao which has an acceptance philosophy that appeals to him.  “What is, is.  Let it be.”   Will he finally turn to some higher power?   Will he stay clean to the end?

Second, James fall in love with another patient, the beautiful but damaged Lily.  It is against the rules of the Treatment Center to hob-nob with the women.   Will they, can they, finally find happiness together?

I just finished the book and it is a gripping read.  For lack of a better term it might be called a fictionalized autobiography.  I’d be willing to bet my bottom dollar that the incident with the priest is fiction.  But if you want to learn about the day-by-day,  hour-by-hour and sometimes minute-by-minute life of an addict in Rehab, this book delivers.




But immorality (sexual vice) and all impurity or greediness must not even be named among you, as is fitting and proper among saints (God’s consecrated people).  Let there be no filthiness (obscenity, indecency) nor foolish and sinful  talk, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting or becoming; but instead voice your thankfulness.  — Ephesians 5:3-4

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. — Colossians 3:8