Monday, January 5, 2009

Michael Bart & Laurel Corona's "Until Our Last Breath"

Michael Bart and Laurel Corona are the authors of Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance.

Corona applied the “Page 99 Test” to the book and reported the following:
Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) tells of Jewish resistance efforts during the Nazi occupation of Vilna (Vilnius) Lithuania. The most obvious form of resistance was a small, armed underground movement that took hold in the ghetto, but other efforts involved almost every ghetto resident in one way or another. Maintaining hiding places for vulnerable residents, setting up schools and libraries to keep minds active and alive, and offering medical and social services to keep residents as healthy and well-fed as possible were also ways that Jews refused to give in to their oppressors.

Page 99 shows yet a third way of fighting back--the extensive effort put into recreating in the ghetto as much of pre-war life as possible. The Jewish community of Vilna had enough highly skilled musicians for a symphony orchestra, and concerts were one of the most successful diversions. As I wrote on page 99, “it was a chance to feel normal again, to forget their shabby clothes, and the aches and pains of hard work and hard floors to sleep on, to think about something other than cold, and fear, and hunger.” It is impossible to imagine the horror of those times, but I tried to picture how I might feel and react if I were there, and bring the reader as close to that experience as possible in words.

Frankly, I’m a bit puzzled when I see Until Our Last Breath described as the biography of the parents of Michael Bart (whose research into their lives was the genesis of the project). My intent as the author was to weave Leizer and Zenia Bart’s narrative into a book about thousands of equally quiet heroes caught in a terrible time and place. When I think about the book I wrote, I see it as a broader story of resistance in different ways by many people with whom I’m sure Leizer and Zenia would want to share the spotlight. Wonderful and inspiring as their story is, the book is much bigger in scope than that. As I wrote, I tried to incorporate as many different perspectives as possible—historical, sociological, psychological, religious, and more—into a wide-ranging, multifaceted, and compelling story of the personal courage and resilience of many. That’s how I would like the book to be viewed.
Learn more about Until Our Last Breath at the publisher's website.

Visit Laurel Corona's website and blog, and read the Page 69 Test entry for her novel, The Four Seasons.

--Marshal Zeringue