I rarely read nonfiction. Usually, no matter how interested I am in the subject matter, I find myself walled out by dense technical language or a dry, dull writing style. Sometimes both will chase me out before I really begin. Fortunately, The Accidental Caregiver is anything but dense and dull. The author’s frank personal style makes his book come alive. It has a pulse of its own, practically throbbing with love and laughter and tears.

At its center is the heart of Holocaust refugee Maria Altmann.
I was drawn to this book because I’ve long been interested in World War II, though I only became emotionally invested in knowledge of the Holocaust after touring Dachau. I’ve always been extremely empathetic and imaginative, leading to a heightened connection to the past when visiting historic sites. I call it feeling the ghosts. Never was that more true than while walking among the echoes of horror at Dachau. Physically standing on such ground is a life altering experience. I believe that a truly compassionate person cannot walk away from such an experience unchanged deep inside. Reading of Fritz Altmann’s imprisonment there was particularly heartbreaking, since I could all too easily imagine the setting.

To have escaped the wider landscape of the Holocaust made the remarkable Maria Altmann more remarkable still. The Accidental Caregiver takes the reader through her entire life, a high point of which is her perseverance as an elderly woman in an ultimately successful quest to have her family’s art collection that was stolen by the Nazi’s returned. Her aristocratic family knew composers, artists, and other historical figures, making anecdotes on her life and background fascinating in their own right. I’ll leave readers to discover these gems for themselves. Suffice it to say I was never bored.

However interesting and moving these aspects of the book are, the title promises a more personal story. All these other parts of Maria Altmann’s story are told of within the framework of the experiences of her caregiver. Gregor Collins was a
young actor whose struggles through the labyrinth that is showbusiness gave way over time to the struggle to see Maria through her waning years, while helping her maintain her dignity, her grace, and her enjoyment of the act of living. Though separated by decades in age, these two very different people formed a deep bond of friendship and love that enhanced both their lives unforgettably.

The Accidental Caregiver is not just one story. It is a collecting of stories, people, and lives that intersect to make history, both public and personal. It is a reminder of the strengths that lie deep inside the human spirit, and a testament to the great power of love to make a dramatic difference in the lives of those it truly touches.

Advertisements