"Sonia's Song" is the story of Sonia Korn-Grimani, an internationally known singer in the 1960s and 70s, as a Jewish child growing up during the Holocaust. Her memoir mostly focuses on her childhood, as her parents, both Polish and Jewish, attempted to keep their family together and alive during World War II.
What makes this book different or stand out from other Holocaust books? It is told in first-person, Korn-Grimani's viewpoint, and she writes it as if she is now experiencing it. She uses present tense to describe events such as watching soldiers torment Jewish men, escaping to an orphanage and missing her mother and father, whom she was often separated from to keep her safe.
She begins the book by telling the reader about her family: her mother, her father and her brother, Heini, who is two years older than she. She begins with this sentence: "I stand 3 feet 6 inches tall when I am declared an enemy of the German state." She was 8 years old when this happened in 1939.
She goes on to write, "My brother and mother are also labeled German enemies. ... There was no need to label my father as an enemy: He was declared stateless three years ago — the first step toward nonexistence."
She then goes back to explain to the reader the atmosphere in Germany before the war actually began and to introduce her once happy family. She goes on to show how her world unraveled as Adolf Hitler took over and anti-Semitic messages ruled their world.
Most of what Korn-Grimani writes in the first three-fourths of the book is not new information — especially to people who've read several World War II or Holocaust accounts — but her writing style is easy and captivating. Because she introduces her family first and shares old photos throughout the beginning, readers get to know them and care what happens — almost like reading a novel.
Also, readers of "Sonia's Song" are faced with the fact they are encountering the story of a young girl and her brother escaping the Nazis — and how terrifying and hopeless this time must have been for their parents and them. If you are a parent reading this book, you can understand the desperation Sonia's mother feels to keep her children safe from the Nazis and why she makes the difficult decisions she has to make.
One of the most captivating sections of the memoir is when Korn-Grimani and her brother must live in a French orphanage, pretending to be Catholic, to save themselves from being rounded up by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps or killed.
The woman who owned and ran the orphanage kept the children safe, but they often had to wear clothes that didn't fit and went to bed hungry with no heat in their rooms during the winter. The children went to Mass and learned Catholic traditions.
Korn-Grimani's mother visited her there twice a month, and eventually her mother and father came to get her brother and her after two years, when the war ended.
The last part of the book shows how this child who underwent so much lived on to be a singer, wife, mother and grandmother. She somehow overcame all the hardships of her childhood, and she praises music for helping her deal with life's difficulties.
"Sonia's Song" is a wonderful memoir; although at times dealing with a difficult subject matter, it provides readers with a sense of hope and perseverance. It also shows how music truly has a healing quality.
Margo Dill has a degree in English from Truman State University and often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/ ). The former Mahomet resident now lives in St. Louis with her family.