A Sublime Masterpiece. One of 2013’s Best Books. A Critical Review.

posted on Aug 22 2013

“I think only my mother could use the word ‘sweet’ to describe a German soldier in the middle of a war…We are hiding both Jews and Germans.

“Hope is a strategy after all.”

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Sometimes, when writing about cultural events, people become indelibly and wholly connected to an event: the African-American experience with slavery; contemporary Jewish history to the Holocaust.

It can become a problem when the literature of an exploited people don’t rise above the expectations of the reading public because this thinking diminishes the fuller life experiences of a people.

In MY MOTHER’S SECRET, J.L. Witterick has written a profoundly insightful biography of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena–heroines in the fullest sense of the word.

The story takes place in a small Polish town at the beginning of the Nazi occupation. The delicate social dynamics among its diverse citizenry unraveled as Hitler’s war machine pitted neighbor against neighbor. Hysteria, fear and unwarranted suspicion replaced cordial greetings, discussions about family at the market, plans for romantic dates and weekend soirees.

SECRET, I should mention, is NOT a book with explicit accounts of death and carnage. This is a book about the psychology and the strength of a mature woman and the maturation of her now-adult daughter and the choices they make as the familiar world around them collapses.

It’s part poker face and part chess moves: bravery and daring and some may add, steely determination in the face of armored tanks parked just outside her home and the undeterred, watchful eyes of neighbors by night. Brilliance over brawn.

There are three other families in the story and their situations are told in a rashomon literary-style. And, as you come to know their point of view, you gain a greater appreciation for the sacrifice that Franciszka and Helena make and the horrific environment they shared.
The intensity of this story is dramatic as it is exciting. And, it is an authentic experience.

It is easy to bypass stories of the Holocaust or slavery narratives because of the sheer number of times that the experience has been shared. It, unfortunately, makes one numb to the genre but when a book like this comes along and from someone–J.L. Witterick– the president of an investment banking company in Canada, not an established author…we aught to take note.

This inspired piece of literature should be a strong consideration for public and private school reading lists throughout Canada AND the United States and any territory that values the contribution of a literary work that constructively adds value to their societies.

This book has my strongest recommendation and should be considered one of the best books of 2013.