Reading Claudius: A Memoir in Two Parts

Written by Caroline Heller
Review by Lorraine Norwood

Caroline Heller’s thoughtful and tender memoir raises the bar considerably for future non-fiction authors. In the first part of her memoir, she explores her parents’ and uncle’s lives in pre-World War II Prague, when the city sparkled with the intellectual fervor of a café/salon society. As her mother, father, and uncle discussed the compelling philosophical and political issues of the day, Hitler’s military build-up next door threatened to unravel the young Czech democracy. Heller’s mother and uncle emigrated to England and the U.S., but her father was arrested and spent six years in Buchenwald and Auschwitz.

The second part of the memoir focuses on the scope of trauma inflicted by Hitler as it trickled down to victims’ children and grandchildren. Paul Heller, deeply traumatized by his experiences as a prisoner, unknowingly affected his daughter’s emotional life, a consequence she writes about with deep affection and forgiveness. Her thorough research, oral interviews, and exploration of family letters, augmented by her memory and imagination, produce a heartbreaking book. Heller writes with honesty and integrity about a period of history that should never be forgotten. One of the finest memoirs to be published in a long while. Highly recommended.