15 March 1941, 11.30 p.m.
I’m sitting on the window-sill in Jules’s room, writing by the light of the moon… a full moon… I can’t see a thing, can’t see what I’m writing… It’s very quiet outside… Once in a while the silence is broken by the droning of an aeroplane… Shadows are falling into the room, on to my hands and on to the paper. I’m hanging halfway out of the window. Below me I can see the garden, brightly lit. The drops suspended from the leaves glitter in the moonlight and make everything look like crystal. The trees are drawn in black against the greyish sky. I can hear Father and Mother talking in their room right below me. Everybody is enjoying this beautiful evening… Everything is peaceful and lovely. How can it be that just down the street a horrible war is going on?
'‘There are times when I’m so happy that I think I’m going to burst… I want to catch, keep and freeze them forever.’
It was to capture those special moments that Edith van Hessen began her first diary at the age of thirteen in 1938. A carefree Dutch teenager, she lived in The Hague with her loving, artistic and musical family.
Even the German invasion of Holland in May 1940 did not immediately threaten her happy-go-lucky existence. She was preoccupied by theatre productions and exams at school. Outside school hours there were long bicycle and sailing expeditions, skating parties and a growing interest in boys. But Edith’s family was Jewish, and although at first she just shrugged it off when public transport, beaches and even school were declared off-limits, by the summer of 1942 it became clear that they were all in increasing danger. Early one morning, Edith carefully unpicked the yellow stars from her clothes and with false identity papers was sent into hiding with a Christian family in a small town in the south of Holland.
Certain the war would be over soon, Edith saw the months turn into years, and the letters from her parents via an underground network brought increasingly depressing news, of disappearances, illness, betrayal and deportations.
But they also brought expressions of wisdom, love and courage that sustained Edith, until even the letters stopped.
Based on her diaries and her parents’ letters, Edith’s Book tells how one young girl, of the many thousands with similar stories, was saved by the courage of those who believed, in the words of the woman she calls her foster-mother, that ‘it was the only decent thing to do’; and how she was given resilience to survive by the memory of a childhood filled with love.
'It is truly moving, leaving one with great hope in humanity…' The Times
'Subtle, gripping and brilliantly constructed. Edith’s Book is less of a book about change than of survival. It is the story of a young Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Holland and how, miraculously, she survived the war. It holds you with the same intensity as The Diary of Anne Frank, and leaves you heartbroken, illuminated and amazed at the capacity for courage.' Esther Freud, The Guardian – Books of the Year
'a moving but also restrained account….' The Glasgow Herald
'Do we need another Holocaust memoir? Yes we do. This subject goes to the heart of being human.' Carole Angier, The Spectator
Chivers Press (large print) UK
Soho Press USA
Sperling & Kupfer Italy
Grijalbo Mondadori Spain
Anhui Literature & Art China (simple character)