Przemysl, Poland, 1939. Two-year-old Renata is woken by her Mamusia in the middle of the night and bundled into the basement. The peacock quilt she is wrapped in reminds her of a story about a giant who guards a mysterious place called the Underworld. She drifts back to sleep as the sound of thunder rages around them.
No one has explained to Renata what war is. She knows her Tatus, a doctor, is in Europe with the Polish Army and that her beautiful Mamusia is not allowed to work at the university anymore. But, more than anything, she notices that their frequent visitors - among them Great Aunt Zuzia and Uncle Julek with their gifts of melon and lovely clothes - have stopped coming entirely. One morning Mamusia returns home with little yellow, six-pointed stars for them to wear. Renata thinks that they will keep them safe.
June, 1942. Two soldiers in grey-green uniforms burst into their apartment carrying guns. Renata, Mamusia and grandmother 'Babcia' are taken to the Ghetto and crammed into one room with other frightened families. The adults are forced to work long hours at the factory and to survive on next to no food. One day Mamusia and Babcia do not return from their shifts.
Renata is five years old. Utterly alone, she is passed from place to place and survives through the willingness of ordinary people to take the most deadly risks. Her unlikely blonde hair and blue eyes and other twists of fate save her life but stories become her salvation.
A true story of the horrors of war, Let Me Tell You a Story is a powerful and moving memoir of growing up in extraordinary times, and of the magical discovery of books.
In a burnished memoir, Calverley, a retired English teacher in Oxford, England, recreates her wartime years in Poland in the voice of a young, well-to-do Jewish child who is separated from her mother and shunted off to various safe houses. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, Calverley had grown up in Przemysl, the only child of a doctor who enlisted with the Polish army and a mother who taught literature at the university. After the Nazi invasion of 1939, the family was relocated to the ghetto and forced to wear yellow stars, and the mother was dismissed from her teaching job, leaving the child uncomprehending and profoundly shaken. Her mother and grandmother were taken away in September 1943, and Calverley, then nearly six, was abandoned to a series of caretakers from her former wet nurse Marynia, who got her out of the ghetto under her skirts, to various relatives and Polish partisans, who are portrayed with particular brutishness. A stint in a nasty orphanage with a horrid older bully named Jorik capped Calverley s episodic wartime saga. She makes it through these difficult years by losing herself in books favorites include works by Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens until finally being rescued by her doting aunt and uncle back in Przemysl. Calverley s memoir is no fairy tale she brings the horrors of war vividly to life but her survival is miraculous.