Updated: Mar 30, 2020
It is no secret that I love a good memoir, especially written by a strong female author. I was lucky enough to receive a gifted copy of When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann from Simon and Schuster and I was able to meet Ariana at a publishing event. I picked her brain about how she felt writing her book and shared my own insecurities and fears with writing. Hearing the story from her gave me even more respect for this book. Ariana crafted a unique memoir that is part investigative, part biographical, and answers the question of who her father was before she came along. I loved that aspect of the book because I rarely think about the fact that my parents lived a life before I came into the picture. In Ariana's case, she grew up in Venezuela and her father was a prominent businessman who kept to himself. After he passed away, he left her a box filled with artifacts from his past. Ariana used these to uncover the story of his life and was able to get to know her father in a different light.
When Time Stopped uncovers the story behind the clues Ariana's father, Hans Neumann, left behind. His story is heartbreaking, endearing, and powerful. Hans was a Jewish young man, living in Czechoslovakia, biding his time while the Nazi regime unfurled around him. His family members, including his parents, were sent to a work camp and he ended up receiving orders to report as well. In order to avoid going to a concentration camp, Hans took on a false identity and moved to Berlin to hide in plain sight. Hans was able to survive the war and eventually leave the country and move to Venezuela, where he met his wife, Ariana's mother. But for those number of years, life was hard and terrifying.
Parts of Hans story are direct excerpts from writings Hans had compiled later on in his life. Ariana was able to finish her father's story and the parts that came directly from him are by far the most moving. I felt the fear Hans felt as I read his words and I was amazed by the sheer luck he had in some of his circumstances. I have read a handful of books about World War II and the Nazi regime, including the famous The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, but When Time Stopped is a unique take on the war. It was interesting learning what he went through, but also how he dealt with it for the remainder of his life and how Ariana uncovered all of this after his death.
Parts of this book were a bit heavy handed, including the back story of the Neumann family. At times, I felt like I was zoning out a bit and had a hard time keeping track of the family members and the locations. This made the book slow at first, but once the focus was on young Hans and how the war started to effect his family, I was sucked in. Ariana is a beautiful writer and her prose is almost poetic. I imagine it was cathartic for her to be able to uncover her father's story and to also be able to finish his book and share it with the world.
I recommend this one to people who are fans of historical biographies and memoirs, especially those focused on World War II and Europe during that time.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the gifted copy and thank you to Ariana Neumann for the opportunity to read and review your lovely book!