Monday, November 29, 2010

Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

"Sometimes he liked to imagine that each star was a word, and the sky was a piece of paper. Then the stars unfurled into a phrase- a proclamation for just one night."
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank takes place during World War II, as a group of Jews live underground in a converted mine, called the compound, as scribes, translating and answering letters written to the dead. These Jews were saved because of their knowledge of multiple languages, and as a result of the Third Reich's reliance on occult, they are responsible for ensuring that the dead get their replies. They also help perpetuate the impression that people aren't actually dying at concentration camps. However when the philosopher Martin Heidegger writes a letter to his optometrist, a man now dying at Auschwitz, who is able to reply? The answer to this question results in a series of events which will change the course of history for those who live at the compound.

This book fell somewhere in the middle ground for me- I admired the research and details that went into the story, as well Frank's technically expert writing. I especially appreciated the fact that Heidegger's Glasses is a book, which despite being on a very popular topic, takes a look at a less known perspective of World War II, including a Nazi who tries to help Jews and wishes for Germany's defeat and Jews who escaped concentration camps. However, I did find the story itself slightly distant, at times I almost felt as if I was reading a script, and while I certainly feel it could make a fantastic film I didn't quite get the emotional connection to the characters that I craved.

In addition, without providing any spoilers, I found the abrupt time change at the end of the novel as well as the switch to a brand-new character slightly awkward and out of place. While the ending of Heidegger's Glasses did feel rushed, there were many beautiful scenes which I loved, the contemplations on the idea of always feeling near-death after an experience like being in a concentration camp, and how such a shocking horror divides the lives of the people who experience it into Before and After. There were some characters I wished to get to know better (like Maria, a woman who spends months living under the floor in hiding) and others I didn't care so much for including half a dozen romantic liasons happening in the compound between people I could never quite keep straight.

At the beginning of each chapter Frank includes an actual letter from the period as well as the translation. The letters themselves are simple but heartbreaking since the reader realizes what likely happened to the person who wrote them. Overall, Heidegger's Glasses is an intelligent book, it just didn't quite capture my heart. ***

A Note: One of the biggest questions I was left with upon finishing Heidegger's Glasses was what is fact and what is fiction. That is a testament to how well Frank blends the two, but I am definitely still curious. Frank has done a guest post answering this question which I found very interesting and really recommend. It is available here. For those wondering- individuals at concentration camps were forced to write letters on their virtues, but those letters were not actually answered as they are in the book.

Number of Pages: 336 pages
Published: May 2010

This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.   


  1. Thank you for the thoughtful review, Zoe, and for being on the tour!

  2. Lovely review -- I did an interview with Ms Frank because I wanted to know how she came up with this book! Much of the bones, it seems, came first, and she found in her research ways to settle it against the real history. Totally fascinating. I just loved this book -- I found it very dreamy without being aloof.

  3. @Audra- thanks for sharing the link to another really interesting tour, it is really cool how she found history for an idea she already had, it's a way of working I haven't encountered before.

  4. This sounds very interesting, might give it a go, thank you!

  5. Have been interested in this subject since college. I met several concentration camp survivors and found it interesting how each individual dealt, or didn't, with the experience. It will be interesting to read of those events from a different perspective. There are so many events and facts on the subject that are not commonly known.

    Thank you for the giveaway.

    librarypat AT comcast DOT net

  6. @Librarypat- This isn't actually a giveaway, not sure where you got that from. I do plan to host one in the future though so be sure to check back.

  7. Was just rereading the posts and thought the same thing. Checked the comments to see if I had goofed and yes I did. This is the second review I have seen of this book. This is a piece of history I wasn't aware of.

  8. No problem, I will be hosting a giveaway in the future but you will have to comment on that to be entered. :)

  9. For some reason, my latest reading has been taking me to this time period. I just finished reading The Book Thief, and I'm now currently reading The Last Brother, both excellent reads. I do have a hard time with this period, as it makes me so sad and upset that humans were treated this way - it's almost like a dagger stabbing through my heart when I allow myself to think about the horrors and difficulties that they faced. Thanks for the review!


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