I’m not normally in the habit of writing book reviews but this is not so much a book review but more of a personal sharing of how this book has struck me on a deeply personal level. The Choice, by Edith Eger, is a book written by a holocaust survivor who lived in the death camps for a year, witnessing her mother being sent to the gas chambers, watching those around her suffer and die, and having withstood unspeakable suffering. But in spite of this, she survived and went on to become an internationally acclaimed professional in the field of clinical psychology and psychiatry. But the message of this book is more than just about survival, but rather as its name declares, it is about choices ― how to approach life in a conscious manner, making one small positive choice after another.
Perhaps the phrase or incident that struck me most in Edith’s experiences and insight was when she was recounting how, when soon after upon arrival at the concentration camp, all the women had their hair shorn off. Her sister who had always boasted a beautiful mane, upon having her hair hacked off mournfully and desperately asked Edith, a 16-year-old at the time, how she looked. Edith describes how in that moment she made the choice to highlight the beauty of her sister’s eyes, the one positive truth that was available to her: “Your eyes – they’re so beautiful. I never noticed them when they were covered up with all that hair”. Her other choice was to tell her that she looked like a “mangy dog, a naked stranger”, and continue to impress upon her sister the cruelty and bleakness of their situation.
We are all faced with these sorts of choices of a daily basis – thankfully for most of us they are not in the context of such extreme suffering, but nonetheless, the way we chose to look at life, how we chose to react to the adversities that come our way, can determine not only our personal wellbeing, but also that of others. That day, in the midst of all that suffering, Edith’s sister was comforted by her sister’s words and strengthened to face unspeakable trauma. The other option would have thrown her into deeper despair. How often are we faced with these situations? How often do we choose to look at things negatively, and fail, or indeed refuse, to look for and see the positive things in our lives?
I recommend this book not just because it is written by a professional with a sound background in psychology and psychiatry, not just for its truthful rendition of a holocaust survivor’s story, but for the great lessons that the author imparts ―how to make choices in life that do not keep us prisoners of our past, of our hurts, of our failures. It is a book that gives insight and hope and empowers one to feel able to take charge of his/her life. Edith freely admits to having struggled for decades to arrive at a point of having attained inner personal peace and freedom, and that in itself is also a source of hope ― the realisation that we are all struggling in this life, but with perseverance and an open heart (and sometimes with a bit of help), we can learn how to harness the strength to make the choice to move forward.
Charlotte Schembri has a background in psychology and education and has extensive experience in supporting students with different needs and their families. She is currently reading for a Masters in Family Therapy and Systemic Practice and forms part of the Willingness Team.
Eger, E. (2017). The Choice. Rider, London, UK.