Tuesday, November 17, 2009
When I was six or seven, I bought a book at the Fairfax Elementary School book store (one book rack in Miss McCracken's classroom) called Let's Cook without Cooking, full of recipes that you could make without turning on the stove. My personal favorite was peanut butter butterscotch fudge.
When I was ten years old, I took a book out of the Fairfax Elementary School Library- The Endless Steppe. Both of these books were by Esther Hautzig. She died on Sunday, November 4th (link to the Times obituary above).
I loved The Endless Steppe- I borrowed it multiple times, and would keep reading it over and over until I had to return it. It was her own story- how Soviet soldiers stormed her parents house in Vilnius in 1941, and transported her family to Siberia for forced labor when she was eleven years old. Hautzig (her maiden name was Rudomin) worked in gypsum mines and in construction. She, her parents and her grandmother survived the war; ironically, the Soviets saved them from being exterminated by the Nazis because they were Jews.
Hautzig wrote in a clear, reassuring voice in Let's Cook without Cooking. In The Endless Steppe, she wrote in the voice of a teenager, like the teenager that she was when she was arrested in 1941. And frankly, not unlike the ten year old I was, growing up in Ohio. That was the extraordinary thing about her autobiography, that it was so entirely accessible, even to a kid growing up in the Midwest. I didn't realize she lived in New York; if I had, I think I would have asked her out for tea. Because after reading her book, you really felt like you knew her.