A Gift from The Enemy
A compelling story set in Italy during World War II as seen through the eyes of an adventurous Jewish boy, this unique memoir is told with humor and grace. During the period of the Holocaust, when his mother fears the Nazi hunt, the love of the boy for his Mutti is ever present even when a new man enters into their lives. Hope, laughter and love will guide you through this book. More
Lamet offers a tender, highly observant memoir of his boyhood years in Italy during World War II.
With his Jewish mother and father, the author spent the first eight years of his life in Austria in a comfortable bourgeois atmosphere. But then the storm clouds of war forced the family to move from Vienna to Milan, Paris, Nice and San Remo, before they found the obscure sanctuary of Ospedaletto, Italy. Along the way, Lamet’s father left for Poland, and therefore plays little role in the remainder of the memoir, but his mother remains a steady force throughout. As the author writes of his days with her, he brings an authentic feel of childhood to the story, and readers will likely remember their own similar, universal joys. He touches upon activities in all manner of daily life, including woodworking, hearing Jewish singers and occasionally eating in restaurants. He also writes of attending summer camp and spending another summer on a farm, and of the kindness of a newswoman who lent him the latest comic books—all while he lived as a Jew in Europe at the wrong time in history. He draws other moments with a quieter, emotional ache: His mother finding a new man (“My parents had never kissed like that in front of me”), his family’s lack of food and the terrifying experience of seeing a uniformed German soldier. The book’s second section comprises the author’s postwar years, and although readers may enjoy finding out what happened to Lamet down the road, his life during wartime is far more gripping, whether he’s dodging bombs or learning to love poetry.
An engaging childhood memoir of World War II.
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Child of wartime Europe writes rich, cinematic memoir
A Gift From the Enemy
By Enrico Lamet
The author of this endearing memoir is an 82-year-old retiree living in Florida. How he got there is an amazing tale. Born in Vienna as Erich Lifschütz, an upper middle class Jew with Polish roots, he left Austria with his parents in 1938, at the age of 8. As Jews, they were not permitted to take much money out of the country as they shuffled across France and came to settle in Italy, as the Nazis marched across borders. You would expect such an account to be filled with the horrors of war. But it is not.
Lamet is a natural storyteller. When he identifies himself as al confino, he is referring to the system of enforced exile, or confinement of untrustworthy elements, which was put in place by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after allying with Hitler. The author’s father made the fateful choice of returning to Poland to see family, leaving his wife and son on their own for the duration of the war. The author and his mother, whom he calls “Mutti,” are affectionate, yet she is as willful and worry-prone as he is active and adventure-prone.
They know as much freedom as one can, living in the backward, bug-infested mountain village of Ospedaletto. The others in their cohort of undesirables — which include a former Oxford professor, Eastern Europeans, and Italians — must check in with the police on a regular basis.
What makes this book so animated are the cast of characters as they survive in the mind of Erich (Enrico, in his Italian incarnation). A shoemaker, young priests, teachers, neighbors — they are his extended family in times of trial and confusion, as the outsiders adapt to a colorless townscape of steep, dusty, narrow streets, a place without running water. Money is scarce, food not always plentiful, and when winter blows in, young Enrico “combed the woods for the scraps left behind by some careless woodsman” to keep the fire going. He lives by his wits.
Rich and cinematic in scope, A Gift from the Enemy is a captivating story of awakening knowledge and a child’s resilience.
Complete review avalable on book back cover.
Andrew Burstein is Charles P. Manship Professor of History at LSU