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One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World

Review

One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World

by Michael Frank, with artwork by Maira Kalman

There are countless books written about the Holocaust. The details of the torture and murder of millions of Jews in Europe are well known and painstakingly documented. Still, it remains vitally important for people to engage with these difficult truths and facts in order to honor the lives lost, work against contemporary antisemitism and avoid genocide in all its horrific variety. Survivor stories can be challenging, but they contribute to a fuller understanding of the events and provide us with insight into experiences that we should not look away from. They also remind us that survivors (and Jews in general) should not be defined by their survival or the acts committed against them.

"This book is about survival, but to reduce it to just that element is to miss how Frank has captured and recorded the history, romance, spirituality, frailties and triumphs it contains.... ONE HUNDRED SATURDAYS is a treasure."

Michael Frank was aware of all of this when he met an elderly Holocaust survivor named Stella Levi. What drew the two together were not discussions of the Holocaust but a shared interest in the Italian language and its culture, which they discovered by chance when they sat next to each other at an NYU lecture in 2015. From small talk grew a conversation spanning years in which Frank helped Levi articulate her life story --- from the traditional Sephardic community on Rhodes all the way to her New York apartment where she shared memories, both joyful and painful, which came to be Frank’s new book, ONE HUNDRED SATURDAYS.

Over a period of six years, Frank and Levi met in her apartment, and her amazing biography gradually unfolded. At first, there was much that she preferred not to share. But over time and after the building of trust, she eventually bestowed on Frank (and readers of his book) the fullness of her story: her childhood in Rhodes, her family and traditions, the loss of rights under Italian and Nazi rule, her deportation to death camps, her liberation, her marriage and motherhood, her friendships and familial relationships, and her attachment to language and literature.

Born in 1923, Levi was the youngest of seven children in a traditional Sephardic family. Descended from Jews who had lived in Spain during the medieval period, the Levis, like many of the Rhodeslis, felt connected to Turkish culture more than Greek. The Levi family well represented the cultural crossroads at which many European Jews found themselves --- old ways of life and customs challenged by modern ideas and new modes of education. Levi’s six siblings inhabited the various ways that her generation responded to changes --- by seeking new life abroad, rejecting religion in favor of politics and philosophy, embracing tradition and expectation, and immersion in the multicultural community without losing sight of their Jewish identity.

Stella Levi herself is a wonder. She is thoughtful and honest, yet cautious, poetic and reflective as she recounts her life for Frank. Her story is full of universal truths and uniquely devastating moments, all told with affecting beauty. For Frank’s part, he has penned and assembled her remembrances with a deft hand, an open mind and a compassionate heart, resulting in a singular story of a place lost, the importance (and frustration) of memory, and a life lived with curiosity and vibrant humanity.

This book is about survival, but to reduce it to just that element is to miss how Frank has captured and recorded the history, romance, spirituality, frailties and triumphs it contains. At the compelling intersection of biography and memoir, this highly recommended work is made even more spectacular by Maira Kalman’s evocative color paintings. ONE HUNDRED SATURDAYS is a treasure.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 16, 2022

One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World
by Michael Frank, with artwork by Maira Kalman

  • Publication Date: September 6, 2022
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 198216722X
  • ISBN-13: 9781982167226