A Life of the Twentieth Century, by Irene Even
269 pages, $18.95 (hardback)
Summary of A Life of the Twentieth Century:
A Life of the Twentieth Century is the story of Aya, who lived through the loss of her parents before the age of 3. At the age of 12, she was sent to a boarding school in Budapest that closed after one year, because the Nazi army marched into the city.
Aya was left totally alone to face the Nazi occupation and experience all the horrors of the war. She faced many life-threatening situations, such as prison, bombardment, or even the possibility of being executed on the spot, without really comprehending the gravity of it all.
The end of the war was supposed to mean liberation, the return of hope and freedom for most people. However, it didn’t happen for Aya, who was part of a youth group on her way to Palestine. The destination of this youth group was to reach Italy and the Jewish Brigade. They crossed the Alps on foot from Austria to reach Italy.
As they reached their destination, Aya met a soldier from the Jewish Brigade, who was supposed to be her hero, her savior, but turned out to be the devil incarnate. From day one, this soldier of the Jewish brigade took control of Aya’s life when she was only 15 years old.
After divorce, destitute and once again alone, she had no direction and almost no hope, when from deep inside her a small voice told her to go back to school. It took all her courage to apply to university, where she was accepted and after five years was granted a B.A. and a diploma of teaching.
She spent the rest of her life teaching and, as she contemplated her life, she said to herself that if she had had all the choices in the world, she would have chosen teaching.
I am a sucker for this sort of book, so I dove right in, pretty sure I wouldn’t be disappointed. And guess what? I wasn’t, not one bit.
A Life of the Twentieth Century tells a fascinating story. It’s classified as a novel, but the story is true. Irene Even definitely has a story to tell and she tells it quite well.
Irene Even survived so much, it’s hard to fathom. As a child, she faced more adversity than one can imagine. She overcame one challenge after another (it made me feel like I hadn’t really dealt with true adversity in my life, actually), all by the time she was 16.
Irene lost her parents, had to live with extended family (who clearly weren’t thrilled with the situation), and was shipped off to school in Budapest, which was soon occupied by the Nazis. She literally faced death every single day. But she survived. Her struggle didn’t end there, however. She married an abusive man, suffered from depression, and became a teacher.
A Life of the Twentieth Century is a memoir by a child of war, a child who was targeted — along with millions of others — by sadistic soldiers, a child who lost her family and had to forge a new future, basically alone in the world. But she did so…and she triumphed.
This story is a story of hope. A fascinating account of an extraordinary woman’s life. One you won’t soon forget. If you like books about history, or World War II, or memoirs, or stories of triumph, this book will be right up your alley. But I encourage you to read A Life of the Twentieth Century simply because it’s a wonderful book.
Irene Even was born in Hungary. As a child she lived through the Second World War, using false papers to survive. After the war, she immigrated to Palestine, lived in a Kibbutz, then later married and immigrated to Canada with her family. She returned to Israel to teach English and remained there for 22 years. Having written her memoir, A Life of the Twentieth Century, she now lives in retirement in Montreal.