She lives near me in summertime, along Narrow River in South Kingstown. I would read her name as a board member of Save the Bay and always thought, “I should meet up with Anna ... she’s of my generation, I could have dated her decades ago!”
And now, I finally got to know her, through her splendid autobiography, titled “I Remember.” It’s rich in family photographs and multilayered memories, and I read the whole volume in one eventful evening, with total admiration – for every chapter, paragraph, word.
“At the outbreak of the War, my father was in the Polish Army: not many Jewish men served in the Army.” I was hooked from the very first page ... until the last page: “No one close to me shares any of my early memories.”
And her very last sentence reads, “I remember the family I lost and I rejoice in the family I have.”
In between, Anna F. Prager recounts experiences of the bitterest pain and the most remarkable victories. Not a single syllable rings false, or evasive!
Now, I have my English teacher resistance to easy sentimentality, or even too much moral oversimplification, but “I Remember” strikes with clarity, dignity, the proper kind of pride and a kind of existential solitude mixed with society. With responsibility to tell the truth.
After surviving numerous escapes from death, Anna returns to her roots and her property in Poland. The new homeowner threatens her with a gun. “Get out or I’ll shoot you dead!” he declares.
Unfazed, she asks, “Can I at least have the family portrait on the wall?”
He refuses to give it to her, but years later, she receives a letter in her American house, asking for penicillin as a cure for whatever was ailing them in the postwar period. He promises to send the picture in return. She ignores the plea – properly so! Easy forgiveness would be a falsehood and a betrayal.
Anna’s story is inspiring without ever a fake note or a concession to the convention of the proverbial American happy ending. Yes, she discovers the joy of learning, especially chemistry, and the wisdom of science. And makes a commitment to the arts of peace – better communication with public transportation and more respect for the freedoms of nature, the rights of one and all, and the pursuit of happiness for the diverse inhabitants of our shared Earth planet.
How did this superb story get written, published and distributed? Anna Prager thanks in print all who collaborated with her or encouraged her project, but she did not seek established, grand, profit-driven industries that edit, print and publicize books that appeal to mass audiences, like how-to-do-it texts and handbooks, or the bios of celebrities, or the adventures of athletes and the careers of political climbers.
Self-published memoirs rarely get acknowledged on the book pages of major newspapers nor do they add luster to an academic curriculum vitae. And yet, for this reviewer, they are the very best of literature nowadays! The noblest, truest and most reliable tales ... like documentary movies instead of the mob-pleasing over-produced products of Hollywood.
I congratulate Anna Prager and whoever finds a way to access her book.
“I Remember” is available for purchase at Amazon.com, and all proceeds are donated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C.
MIKE FINK (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.