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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
In the Time of Madmen: Holocaust Survivor True Stories WWII by Mark A. Prelas is a non-fiction memoir that details the extraordinary lives of his parents. The book begins with an intensive backstory about his mother Katicà, her upbringing, and the community where she grew up in Yugoslavia. She was articulate, intelligent, and driven, as well as an exceptionally talented swimmer. We are then introduced to Prelas' father Jure, who was affable and well-liked and had found moderate success until the onset of the war. When he learned that the benefits of joining the Yugoslavian army were greater than continuing as a civilian worker, he enlisted. When Katicà becomes one of the millions sent to concentration camps during WWII, we learn of her life, survival, and resurrection post-war. We also learn of the role Jure played, at first as a runner of goods, and ultimately on the run for his life as he secured post-war transport for Katicà and his growing family through familial links in the United States.
There is nothing better than a success story except when that success story is true, and Mark A. Prelas's account, In the Time of Madmen, is a survival story for the ages. Tales of Holocaust survival are never easy to read and what Prelas shares of his family’s experiences is heartbreaking. But these are the most important stories to tell, particularly now, as the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism are, once again, being witnessed; a build-up at a rate that proves the fight for safety, and Jewish sovereignty, is ongoing. The writing is heartfelt and while it is sometimes unpolished, the conversational tone humanizes the narrative to give it the feeling of sharing stories with a friend by the fire. I had to put the book down on more than one occasion to collect myself but was quick to start again when I was ready. Memoirs can be tricky to review because one's life story tends to be more interesting as a legacy book for family over commercial consumption, but In the Time of Madmen transcends this barrier and speaks to the soul of every reader. This is a very highly recommended book.