Wednesday, January 25, 2023

When Time Stopped + Playing to the Gods - Nonfiction Reviews


Goodreads: When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father's War and What Remains by Ariana Neumann

Blurb:  In 1941, the first Neumann family member was taken by the Nazis, arrested in German-occupied Czechoslovakia for bathing in a stretch of river forbidden to Jews. He was transported to Auschwitz. Eighteen days later his prisoner number was entered into the morgue book.
Of thirty-four Neumann family members, twenty-five were murdered by the Nazis. One of the survivors was Hans Neumann, who, to escape the German death net, traveled to Berlin and hid in plain sight under the Gestapo’s eyes. What Hans experienced was so unspeakable that, when he built an industrial empire in Venezuela, he couldn’t bring himself to talk about it. All his daughter Ariana knew was that something terrible had happened.

When Hans died, he left Ariana a small box filled with letters, diary entries, and other memorabilia. Ten years later Ariana finally summoned the courage to have the letters translated, and she began reading. What she discovered launched her on a worldwide search that would deliver indelible portraits of a family loving, finding meaning, and trying to survive amid the worst that can be imagined.

When Time Stopped is a detective story and an epic family memoir, spanning nearly ninety years and crossing oceans. Neumann brings each relative to vivid life. In uncovering her father’s story after all these years, she discovers nuance and depth to her own history and liberates poignant and thought-provoking truths about the threads of humanity that connect us all.

My Thoughts:  This was one of those books I wanted to tell people about as I was reading it.  I found the story of the Neumann family heartbreaking and compelling and Ariana was a sympathetic detective digging into the past of a family she never really knew.  This is the story of an ordinary Czechoslovakian Jewish family desperately trying to survive the war and it's also the story of a daughter trying to understand her father and decode the clues he left for her.  There are plenty of heartbreaking elements in this book but because we are learning the story as Ariana investigates there's just enough distance to soften the blows just a little.  The story was fast paced and read like a novel but the story and this family are still with me long after I've put the book down.  My Rating: Loved It (5 Stars)

Goodreads:  Playing to the Gods: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and the Rivalry That Changed Acting Forever by Peter Rader

Blurb:   The riveting story of the rivalry between the two most renowned actresses of the nineteenth century: legendary Sarah Bernhardt, whose eccentricity on and off the stage made her the original diva, and mystical Eleonora Duse, who broke all the rules to popularize the natural style of acting we celebrate today.
Audiences across Europe and the Americas clamored to see the divine Sarah Bernhardt swoon—and she gave them their money’s worth. The world’s first superstar, she traveled with a chimpanzee named Darwin and a pet alligator that drank champagne, shamelessly supplementing her income by endorsing everything from aperitifs to beef bouillon, and spreading rumors that she slept in a coffin to better understand the macabre heroines she played.

Eleonora Duse shied away from the spotlight. Born to a penniless family of itinerant troubadours, she disappeared into the characters she portrayed—channeling their spirits, she claimed. Her new, empathetic style of acting revolutionized the theater—and earned her the ire of Sarah Bernhardt in what would become the most tumultuous theatrical showdown of the nineteenth century. Bernhardt and Duse seduced each other’s lovers, stole one another’s favorite playwrights, and took to the world’s stages to outperform their rival in her most iconic roles.

A scandalous, enormously entertaining history full of high drama and low blows, Playing to the Gods is the page-turning account of the feud that changed theater forever.

My Thoughts:  This was an absolutely fascinating look at the evolution of acting, theater, and the beginnings of the silent movie industry.  I recognize the name Sarah Bernhardt but know very little about her and Eleonora Duse was completely unknown to me.  Both of their stories are fascinating and at times heartbreaking.  I know very little about the history of theater but found the change of styles as illustrated by the two women as well as the relationship between the actresses, playwrights, directors, patrons, and the general public fascinating.   This was a well paced nonfiction about two interesting women in a turbulent profession.  My Rating: Really Liked It! (4.5 Stars)


  1. I love when I find a book that I end up enjoying so much, I'm glad the Neumann book was that for you!

    I've heard of Sarah but like you, not Eleonora.

  2. When Time Stopped does sound like a heartbreaking and compelling book...and one I now really want to read.

  3. These both look great. I like Playing to the Gods, it sounds really interesting to me.

  4. Both sound great but oh When Time Stopped sounds really heart breaking while I can see how it was totally so engaging.