I just finished reading this book. I don’t exactly know what to think. It started out like a Little House in the Big Woods played out in Stalinist Russia. The stories jump around, so sequencing is a problem. But if this really happened to this woman, and I can’t say for sure if it did or did not, it is nothing like The Diary of Anne Frank. Instead, it is a much more active account that ranges anywhere from being neighbors and visitors of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to hiding in a frozen Ukrainian basement as the Germans advance on the Russian front to deportation to a German labor camp.
This is where the coincidence comes into play. The German labor camp was located in Kassel, Germany. I lived in Kassel as a teen. The diary talks about the Kaiser Wilhelm Schloss, which has been the wallpaper on my computer for quite some time. I have been there. It also talks about the bombing of Kassel, in which 90% of the town was obliterated in 30 minutes. I have seen the pictures of the aftermath in the museums. In Kassel. Those two things I know are true. So it lends a level of credibility to the whole work, for me.
So, I have walked in Nonna Bannister’s footsteps unknowingly. I have seen places she has seen. I have heard stories that she told. I found it to be a shocking experience. It never entered my mind, at any time, that I would read, at some point, a memoir that unexpectedly brings me back to my own youthful experiences. We were even about the same age. I recall scouting around places, looking for evidence of Nazi activities while I was in Kassel. I never found any.
Anyway, as far as the story goes, it is irregular, jumpy, and disturbingly matter-of-fact. It is unclear which evil was preferable – Stalin or the Nazis. The author is not Jewish; rather, Eastern Orthodox Catholic. She just got behind the German lines on the Russian front and could neither stay in Russia nor go to Germany without facing grave consequences. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On the heart scale: 6/10. The writing is disjointed. The story jumps around. But there is a basic human truth to be had at the end. It also gets extra credit for hitting me in the personal experience department, taking me completely unaware.