I am pleased by the fact that 30 reviews of my book have been posted on Amazon,com (28 of them with a five-star rating). The latest was written by Dr. William G. Durden, President of Dickinson College:
PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME is a memoir that confronts a myriad of haunting human questions–loss, identity, longing, love, sense of place, exile, spirituality and religion, uncertainty, denial, honesty, secrets, movement and displacement, disillusion, revenge and death. The author, Charles Ota Heller, knows that an intensely lived life is neither singular nor linear; rather, it is composed of the subtle intermingling of many dispositions and human impulses–everything is ultimately connected. For example, after learning of his true identity as a Jew after decades of denial and looking forward to a new life in America, he discovers that what he thought was the case is not so. But that realization is immediately linked by him to thoughts about his own life and his possible self-delusion: “I had dreamed of an American utopia where every one loved everyone else, a country without the prejudices and hatreds I had witnessed in Europe….I was even more devastated when I began reading about vicious American anti-Semitism in the 1930s and, later, America’s failure to do anything about stopping the murder of six million Jews in death camps….Many years later, when I would begin to wonder about the reasons for having suppressed knowledge of my true ethnicity, I would think back on these discoveries. Had I been ignorant of my background, had I been in a state of deliberate denial, or had I simply feared the truth?” A persona of hope, longing and possible happiness after a harrowing childhood in a war-time Czechoslovakia is ultimately broken by disillusionment induced by a globally shared reality of prejudice and denial. The persistence of these dispositions induces personal doubts about what is and what isn’t the case–about the world and himself. And while Charles writes a life story against a background of WWII atrocities and the elimination of many of those family members closest to him, he never loses an affirmation for life as witnessed in his delineation of the joy within small details of daily routines. It is this childlike innocence and playfulness amidst horror that offer the reader a powerful and lasting lesson for living in an imperfect and dangerous world–One example: “Two things which America will never match are Czech bread and beer….Although we had a large refrigerator in our Prague apartment, neither bread nor beer were kept there. Bread had to be fresh from the oven, and beer had to be fresh from the tap. Each evening before dinner, I was sent to the pub across the street with a pitcher….If my parents noticed that the beer pitcher was never quite full when I brought it home, they never let on. Like any Czech boy, I learned to love the national drink at an early age.” PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME deserves to be placed with Andre Aciman’s OUT OF EGYPT as a “must read” about loss, exile, anger and reconciliation with a place that once left, holds on for literally, dear life.