Author: Viktor E. Frankl
Number of pages: 154
Publication: Beacon Press (original). The one that I read was by Rider Books published in the year 2008.
Original Release date: 1946
The grabbing point:
Usually, a book has an attractive synopsis outlining a general story on the basis of which you a make a decision of whether you would like to read it or not. However, if you are expecting something remarkable to stick out and vouch for this book, you are sorely mistaken. The only thing that you will read at the back of this book is that: “It is in honor of those who survived and those who perished in the Holocaust. It is a tribute to hope, offering us an avenue to find greater meaning and purpose in our lives.”
Viktor E. Frankl was a Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School, and was the founder of Third Viennese school of Psychotherapy – the school of logotherapy. His book reflects the evolution of this school of psychotherapy while he was struggling for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. As the first line of the book says, “this book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have experienced from time and again. It is the inside story of concentration camp, told by one of its survivor” So if you are expecting the book to take you through the journey of the actual events of Holocaust and the aftermath, then you will be disappointed. The book rather paints a grim and stark picture of the life of a prisoner in a concentration camp. It is a narration of the psychological state of mind of a prisoner starting from the day he first steps into the prison until the day of liberation when he steps out of it. The author was right when he stated:
“Most of the events described here did not take place in the large and famous camps, but in the small ones where most of the real extermination took place. This story is not about the suffering and death of great heroes and martyrs, nor is it about the prominent Capos – prisoners who acted as trustees, having special privileges – or well known prisoners. Thus it is not so much concerned with the sufferings of the mighty, but with the sacrifices, the crucifixion and the deaths of the great army of unknown and unrecorded victims.”
While the first part of the book explores the identity of a man – as a prisoner, as an impartial person and as the warden and prison guards, the second part explores the concepts of Logotheraphy, which basically focuses on human existence and the search to find true meaning.
I experienced mixed feelings while reading this book. While on one side I could feel the hopelessness and the pain and struggle that the prisoners went through to survive under conditions that were far from humane, at the same time I felt this strange detachment that can be associated only with an outsider. The author inter spaced his autobiography with numerous disclaimers excusing the lack of involvement that a reader can feel while reading this detached and yet personal account of life in concentration camps. I like to be involved when I read a novel, and being warned to maintain a clear perspective did not sit well with me. However the fact that it is a personal autobiography, might have contributed a bit to it.
The second point that can appear a bit disconcerting to the reader can be the detailed psychoanalytic element present in the book. It can be a bit overwhelming, and provided the book with the element of detachment that the author experienced and which the reader has to go through. In the case of the author, it provided him insight in finding the true meaning of Life. But when it comes to the reader, it can be a make or break situation. While some can relate with the author’s conclusion (like I felt), others just wont get bothered by it. I found this element of personal detachment at sharp contrast to the feeling of total involvement that I went through while reading about Russian concentration camps in the book “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn”
Overall rating: 3.3/ 5
Opinion: It is definitely a must read if you are into the genre of War and Human Psychology. I however can leave my curiosity of prison life at rest.
“To attempt a methodical presentation of the subject is very difficult, as psychology requires a certain scientific detachment. But does a man who make his observations while he himself is a prisoner possess the necessary detachment? Such detachment is granted to the outsider, but he is too far removed to make any statements of real value. Only the man inside knows”
“While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies – even minus hair; all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence.”
“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be incomplete.”
“It did not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expected form us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”