Canada Reads·Highlight

Ziya Tong on respecting the pain of others, the scale of loss and what healing looks like

The science journalist and Canada Reads 2019 panellist outlines why Holocaust memoir is the one book to move all Canadians.
Ziya Tong is defending the Holocaust memoir By Chance Alone by Max Eisen. 1:14

For Day Three of Canada Reads 2019, the panellists were sensitive about not comparing pain and loss when debating the literary and emotional impact of the contending books. 

Science journalist Ziya Tong is defending By Chance Alone by Max Eisen, a memoir about the now 90-year-old Eisen's painful past as a Holocaust survivor. On Day Three, she recognized that while the other contending books reflect on loss and pain, Eisen's life story shows not only significant struggle, but a way forward. 

"I am inclined, of course, to say that the loss here is the most profound in Max's case because it's staggering. It simply differs in scale from any of the losses that we're talking about of the books on the table because here we're talking about, not only the loss of his hair, the loss of his clothes, the loss of his name to an identity that became A9892, the loss of all of his worldly belongings except for a pair of shoes, the loss of his home that was given away to his neighbours, the loss of his entire family — his mother, his father, his aunt, his uncles, his sisters, his brothers — up to 300 members of his own family. He lost all sense of normalcy. And, fundamentally, he lost his human rights," said Tong.

"But I want to say one thing about that: I've never met such a smiley man before in my life. When Max called me this morning, as he does every day, he called me at 8 a.m. and he's like, 'Hey so I just want to say good luck and I'm off to the gym!' He's 90 years old! To have experienced that profound amount of tragedy and just keep going and have that amazing life and spirit and to have rebounded and recreated it all, that's a true lesson."

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