Book Report: One Hundred Saturdays, Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank

May 18, 2023

I waited for this book for a long time. The library only had two copies and the people who checked it out must have renewed it more than once and then not returned it on its final due date. Finally, I received the notice that it was my turn. I must admit I wondered if the wait would be worth it. It was.

Stella Levi grew up in the Jewish area called Juderia on the Aegean Island, Rhodes. That Jewish community had existed there for half a millennium until the Germans seized control of the island in September, 1943. The following July all 1650 residents were deported to Auschwitz. It was a mystery why, when Germany was so close to being defeated and the end of the war so near, they went to all this expense and effort, but that is the nature of war, I guess.

Stella survived and eventually immigrated to the U.S. As an elder she met Michael Frank who was interested in her story, and this book is the result of 100 Saturday visits over a period of six years. Frank listened, asked respectful questions, and over time she trusted him, and they developed a rich friendship.

I’ve read many books about WWII and the Holocaust, but in each one I learn something new and come just a bit closer to imagining the horror of that time, but there are also moments of rejoicing when people somehow live beyond the terror and the evil. Stella is one of those people.

“You have to remember that the first time I ever left Rhodes was when they took us to Athens and from Athens through Europe by train. I looked out the window, I watched the stations flash by: here was the continent I’d dreamt about for so long. And afterward…afterward in the camps themselves, we met the French women and Madame Katz and Paula, who were from Belgium. They spoke about Paris, Lyon, Brussels. They had actually seen and experienced, or were connected to, the places I had longed to know and to visit. They’d lived there. They were from there, of there…”

Under the unlikeliest of circumstances, the wider world came closer.

p. 68

“Very early on, almost from the beginning, something curious happened. I detached myself from the Stella who was in Auschwitz. It was if everything that was happening to her was happening to a different Stella. not the Stella I was, not the Stella from Rhodes, the Stella I knew. I watched this person, this other Stella, as she walked through this desert, but I was not this person.”

After a moment she adds, “There was no other way.”

p. 140

About Stella’s relationship with Frank:

“And then you came along and were curious. And patient with me, even though I wasn’t always so…so easy. And in speaking to you I have learned a good deal about myself. As I tell you my stories, I learn. One thing I learn is that there is no single truth; there is a changing truth…and you understand a good deal from going back, returning, and more than once, to what you thought you knew, and felt, and believed.”

p. 208

A bonus in this book is that it is illustrated by Maira Kalman who is the author and illustrator of over 30 books for adults and children, and her work is exhibited in museums around the world.

This is her portrait of Stella.

One of my favorite books she illustrated is the classic The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr and E. B. White. Her illustrations make grammar palatable.

Here are Strunk and White:

And here is Maira Kalman.

An Invitation

What books have you waited for? Have they fulfilled your expectations or been a disappointment? I would love to know.

4 thoughts on “Book Report: One Hundred Saturdays, Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank

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