Saturday Book Review: “The Conversations We Never Had”

Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.

When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review, courtesy of Midwest Book Review:

the conversations we never had jeffrey konis

The Conversations We Never Had

by Jeffrey H. Konis

Publisher: Outskirts Press

ISBN: 9781478767299

Synopsis*:

This is the dream of a grandson, who had taken his grandmother for granted, to have a second chance, the opportunity to learn about his family from the only person in the world who knew them, who remembered them. My father remembers nothing about his real parents for they were dead by the time he was nine. Olga, his mother’s younger sister, survived the Holocaust, found my father hiding on a farm in Poland and later brought him to America to raise as her own. He never asked her any questions about his parents. Though I later moved in with Olga for a period of time, I repeated history and never asked her the questions my father never asked. Olga has been gone for more than twenty years, along with everything she could have told me, leaving me with a sense of guilt and profound regret. The Conversations We Never Had is a chronicle of my time spent with Grandma “Ola” and tells the stories she might have shared had I asked the questions.

 * courtesy of Amazon.com

Critique:

The Conversations We Never Had is about the regrets of a son who wishes he’d probed more of his family history while its elders were still able to tell him about the past; but it doesn’t end with the burial of his Grandmother Olga, the last person to have known his father’s Holocaust experiences in Europe.

Instead, it blossoms into an investigation of what was, a realization of what could have been, and a family history that incorporates not only conversations made; but those which should have taken place.

How did the family matriarch make the kinds of decisions that would allow her family to survive, adopting and bringing her nephew (the author’s father) to a new country? How did his father survive under impossible conditions, and how did she find him after the war to bring him to a new life? The author’s regrets of not asking the right questions, only to piece together truths from a patchwork of possibilities decades later, is wonderfully portrayed: “Grandma Ola was the only person in the world who could give me some insight into my father, what he was like as a child, a son – to an extent – as a student, though I knew he must have been exceptional in this regard, given that he overcame a language barrier, simultaneously learning English and the sciences, among his other courses; he did this successfully enough to go to medical school. And yet I never had an in-depth conversation with Grandma about my dad and, for the life of me, I have no idea why I didn’t. At least I could, and did, ask my father these questions as I navigated my way through the biased nature of his responses, to get as much truth as possible.”

Many Holocaust family stories come from the horse’s mouth in the form of reminiscences of parents and grandparents translated through the memories and notes of their descendants. Jeffrey H. Konis adds a new twist to this approach in covering not only the conversations that took place; but those which were unsaid.

As he surveys issues of Jewish livelihood and independence (among many other subjects), Konis comes to realize the forces that shaped and led to his career and life choices, and brings readers into a world enlightened by these discussions of Jewish heritage past and how they were passed down and, in turn, translated into life decisions made by future generations.

The precise links between these translations and applications past to present are enhanced by the author’s introspective assessments of what is presented to him, and what it means for his own life: “If I couldn’t find a Jewish girl to marry, the selection would be greatly enhanced were I to allow myself to marry someone who converted. But what about everything Grandma was just telling me, that even one who has converted is still not the same as one who was brought up Jewish? It made me think of something my dad once said about Grandma Ola. He told me that, yes, she had raised him like a son, but she wasn’t his mother. He said it wasn’t the same.”

The result is more than another Holocaust survival story: it’s a perceptive and examining survey of how ideals, thoughts, traditions and culture are handed down in families, surveying the types of questions asked and those left unsaid, and their impact.

Readers of Holocaust literature and biography will find themselves drawn to the family and personalities surrounding Jeffrey H. Konis and will be particularly delighted to understand how Jewish traditions and family messages helped him shape his own decision-making process.

reviewed by Diane C. Donovan of Midwest Book Review ]

Here’s what some other reviewers are saying:

Jeffrey Konis’ book “The Conversations We Never Had” was a beautiful reflection of a man’s relationship with his ailing grandmother’s sister, who acted as his grandmother throughout his life. Over many conversations, Konis was able to tease out memories of her life and upbringing in pre-WW2 Germany, as the spectre of Nazism started to overtake Germany, with all of the horrors that entailed. These stories helped Jeffrey better understand his grandmother and her sister, as well as his father’s temperament, which was enlightening. “The Conversations We Never Had” highlights the importance of talking with our elders before it is too late, to gain some of their wisdom and to hear the stories which shaped their lives and personalities. It was a lovely tribute to Konis’ forebears, and I would love to read it again.

– Amazon Reviewer Janelle Collins

They were of a generation that longed to forget, that shied away from discussing the horrors inflicted upon their people, and hardly, if ever, voluntarily offered up stories around the Sunday dinner table.Talking about such a painful time brought back the pain. So it is no wonder that Konis’ grandmother, Ola, pushed on with her life, loved her family and chose to live for the day and remain silent on her past and how the Holocaust tore her family apart. Inevitably, though, the author comes to realize and deeply regret the missed opportunity to have those telling conversations about the Holocaust with Ola when she passes away. Konis, however, bases many of the conversations in the book on fact, having a vital resource in his father, who was 9 years old when the Nazis invaded his town. It is a fascinating read and I was quickly drawn in by his depiction of Ola’s youth, her sister and her father. The book certainly makes one stop and think and regret those lost opportunities and conversations with our elders.

– Amazon Reviewer Pamela J.


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