Book Review: Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

By now, you may have read my post inspired by hearing speaker Aranka Siegal share her experiences about the Holocaust. My mother is currently reading Upon the Head of the Goat, an account of what happened during that time. I thought I would read this book, which is a series of short stories inspired by her own childhood, and then I’ll switch with my mom and read the next book.

Aranka Siegal spent time during the summer (and sometimes other parts of the year) with Babi, her grandmother, who lived in Komjaty, a Ukrainian village. It is clear from these stories that her grandmother was an inspiration to her. The stories are written for younger readers—the book is a little over 100 pages—so it is an easy read. I like how she writes the way she speaks: nothing fancy, simply communicating her story. I enjoyed being taken into a world much different from my own. Indeed, the world of Babi is even different from the world Aranka knew growing up, as she lived in the city with her parents and siblings.

She mentioned in her talk that her grandmother was an inspiration for her. Above all, Babi had unwavering faith no matter what happened in life. Though Aranka was not present when her grandmother was taken by the Nazis (this part of the story is not recounted in this book), she is confident that Babi kept her faith all the way to the end.

That strength is foreshadowed in this book. Babi does everything by hand. Each morning when Aranka (Piri, in this book) would awaken, a fire would already be roaring, breakfast would usually be prepared, and bread or other food would be in the works for later. Babi was also the problem solver of the area. For instance, when Piri’s friend’s grandmother cuts her hair terribly, Babi evens out the haircut, giving the crying girl confidence and turning a negative into a positive. Babi reminds me of the quintessential grandmother—someone with a lifetime of experiences, an unbreakable spirit, and enough common sense to solve any problem.

What gave the book extra depth for me was knowing how it all turns out for Babi and her family. Throughout the work, Babi gave Piri advice about growing up and promised her that she would get to do all the things older kids got to do, all in its own time. It was sad to read that, knowing that Aranka and her grandmother were separated, both dragged to Concentration Camps.

But something Babi said resonated with me. Babi said that everyone is put on this earth for a purpose, and she said that Piri was only a child and wouldn’t know her purpose yet, but she would eventually. Hearing Aranka Siegal speak, I learned her purpose. She went through a terrible experience, but she found that her purpose was to share her story with the world, opening her heart in hopes of spreading love and preventing further atrocities by educating people about the consequences of hatred.

Even without that added dimension—without knowing the “end” of the story, the book is a nice glimpse into another culture and another time. I especially liked how Piri believed all the ghost stories and superstitions she heard—it brought me back to the mind of an imaginative child.

In the end, the author hints at the fact that her faith has never been as strong as her grandmother’s, and I know from the talk I heard that her faith was deeply tested by her experiences at Auschwitz. But she still held her grandmother’s spirit in her heart and has lived with the lessons of her grandmother for all these years. It was an inspirational book, and I’m glad I read it.

On a side note, there are a lot of recipes mentioned in the book, and several of them are reprinted in the back of the book.