Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries Of Etty Hillesum, 1941 1943 - Etty Hillesum

This is a difficult book to read and respond to. I'm sure that Etty Hillesum did not intend her diary to be published and read by the general public. If she knew her writing was going to be read years later by people all over the world, she might have changed what and how she wrote. So obviously any self-indulgence or lack of filtering in her style can't be seen as a shortcoming of her skill as a writer. And, despite the fact that this writing was meant to be private and without a reader, Etty is remarkably good at communicating the quality and essence of her life to the intrusive reader.


As a whole, the book moves from being fully concentrated on Etty herself to being fully concentrated on the Jews of Amsterdam. The process is slow and subtle, and extremely uncomfortable for the reader. This is one of those stories that you absolutely know the ending of and you can't stand that it is coming and you can't stop reading either. I read it frantically. Although she wasn't writing for me, she charmed me utterly.


Even at her most vexing, I easily identified with Etty. For the first half of the book, reading Etty's diary brought back my own memories of my 20s. It's so easy to like her, and her sympathetic writing made me feel like I really understood her. And, ultimately, my attachment to Etty made the last quarter of the book absolutely horrific. Despite not depicting any gore or direct violence, this was one of the most disturbing and haunting books I have read. It made me realize that I had, over time, in some way forgotten about the basic horror of the Holocaust, maybe by trying to put World War II into some sort of historical context. This book slapped me out of that uneasy comfort and reminds us that genocide has been committed against millions of individual humans, and the shock of that never eases.