"Evocative, and inspiring ... So much more than a true crime." - Steve Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of NO STONE UNTURNED
After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust – in ghettos, on death marches, and in concentration camps – a young couple seeks refuge in Canada. They settle into a new life, certain that the terrors of their past are behind them. They build themselves a cozy little cottage on a lake in Muskoka, a cottage that becomes emblematic of their victory over the Nazis. The charming retreat is a safe haven, a refuge from haunted memories.
That is, until a single act of unspeakable violence defiles their sanctuary. Poking around the dark crawl space beneath their cottage, they discover a wooden crate, nailed tightly shut and almost hidden from view. Nothing could have prepared them for the horror of the crate’s contents – or how the peace and tranquility of their lives would be shattered.
Now, their daughter, Deborah Vadas Levison, an award-winning journalist, tells the extraordinary account of her parents' ordeals, both in one of the darkest times in world history and their present-day lives. Written in searing, lyrical prose, THE CRATE: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice examines man’s seemingly limitless capacity for evil... but also, his capacity for good.
For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamed of being an author, the same way some little kids dream of being ballerinas or Major Leaguers. Well, I don’t pirouette, and I sure can’t hit a ball, but from time to time I do come up with a pretty good metaphor.
I’m pretty sure my love of storytelling began one summer night years ago, as I sat by a camp bonfire and listened to a counselor tell a ghost story, The Monkey’s Paw, which made my heart pound and my imagination run wild. The memory still makes me shiver.
Now, I’m thrilled to share my first book with the world. It's a true crime with echoes of the Holocaust, called THE CRATE: A Story of War, a Murder and Justice.
A very well told story about a family’s lake cottage in Canada- their peaceful getaway from the workaday world that they’ve made for themselves, after starting over in Canada once surviving the Holocaust. They find their tranquil place has suddenly gone from a precious memory, to everyone’s newest nightmare after a crate is found with the remains of a murdered body hidden in the crawlspace underneath the cottage. . As they struggle to come to terms with it as police investigate, they wonder if violence has followed them from Europe. A fascinating read for those with an interest in the Holocaust, true crime, and justice in this murder case. My thanks for the advance digital copy that was provided by NetGalley, author Deborah Vadas Levison, and the publisher for my unbiased review. WildBlue Press June 19, 2018
WAIT A MINUTE: wasn’t there a dead body in a crate at some point at the beginning of this story? This is supposed to be a true story so are you telling me that was just a plot device to introduce ‘this f-ing cottage” that I’m tired of hearing about because this writer/narrator is pretentious and self-centered and STUPID. How does someone has Jewish parents, was raised Jewish, have never heard of the Holocaust or be completely oblivious of her own family’s history I just can’t even at this point. This woman is ONE HUGE CANNOT EVEN. I was given this book ages ago to review and I’ve put it off for years. WHERE IS THAT DEAD WOMAN? I dont know I’m too busy remodeling my cottage on the lake so it has an open floor plan. Oh I just fed the dog and that was so hard I have to take a nap now.
Chapter 11 of 19 FINALLY we get to the dead body. And just now it actually sounds like a more informative purposeful book. Maybe ms. Ding dong will take something from her story and realize she wears blinders against the real world.
This writer just said something really ignorant. She actually said that surely her 14 year old daughter would be able to recognize a bad man, an unsafe boyfriend, someone capable of domestic violence. Ummm that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of that works. I’m stunned. This woman must have grown up very sheltered and extremely lucky. My beautiful daughter (truly she’s a blonde intelligent bombshell) has had her head slammed into the hood of a car and a shotgun put to her face. “If you leave me, I’ll kill you.” AND she still wanted to marry that son of a bitch. WORST SITUATION TO EVER HAPPEN TO HER and I never felt so helpless. So yeah, you rose-colored eyeglass wearing woman, I’m sure you’re right. The statistics will be in your favor.
I found this memoir to be a thoroughly engaging read, and was hooked after the first page or two. In fact, I read the entire book in two or three sittings. The author deftly manages to tell two stories in a seamless fashion: the grizzly discovery of a dead body hidden in a crate beneath the family cottage north of Toronto, and how the trauma of the discovery reawakened the buried memories of her family's survival of the Holocaust in Hungary many years earlier. I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy engrossing personal stories as well as for readers who desire to learn about history from the perspective of those who were most affected by its consequences.
Vadas' parents were Hungarian Jews who escaped the Holocaust as young adults, then fled Communist Hungary with the author's elder brother in a backpack. Their carefully insulated community of friends, all marked by their experiences, allowed them to build a new life in Toronto, relentlessly shielding their kids from danger and risk. In 2011, though, the family found out that the handyman they'd hired because of his Eastern European last name and friendly personality had brutally murdered his ex and stuffed her body under their cabin as he did renovations. In a stroke, the parents were shaken to the core by the presence of violent evil in their place of asylum, reminded of the Hungarian neighbors who turned on them, while the author and her brother, carefully shielded their whole adult lives, came face to face with violence on their own property. Vadas' husband, whose Jewish parents were younger, and left earlier, raised him with a far more casual attitude, which manifests in this family crisis as being a callous, "just don't tell me about it," dick. Edited to add: apparently, the author's husband, to prove my point, needed to hunt up my contact information and send me a screed mansplaining the book. Astoundingly unprofessional, and maybe not a way to handle book reviewers.
I finished The Crate a few days ago but needed time to gather my thoughts before I wrote this review. The Crate is the kind of book that you zip through because it's a true-life page-turner, but then you need time to process it all because there's so much depth. The author has skillfully woven four story strands together - the mystery of a dead body turning up at her parents' summer cottage, the heart-wrenching saga of her parents' struggle for survival in war-torn Europe and their subsequent immigration to America, the background of the murdered woman, and the authors' own search for identity. There are so many weighty questions which Levison holds up to the light and examines from different angles. It's almost as if the author is asking us to go with her on her own journey of self-discovery as she tries to make sense of all that has happened.
This compelling story will leave you gutted. I had tears in my eyes as I read the scene of the author sleeping with her mother after her father's death because her mother hadn't slept alone in sixty-three years. But it's also uplifting because ultimately, Levison is able to bring all the story strands together in a way that gives her insights into her parents' past and satisfaction from understanding the sad circumstances of the murdered woman's life. By working through this unlikely chain of events, Levison understands not only what happened, but where she fits into the story. She discovers a stronger connection to her Jewish roots and her "job" as a keeper of memories.
You almost have to read this in a book club (or at least with a buddy) because there's so much you'll want to discuss afterwards!
This is not one, but a collection of powerful crime stories, braided together by coincidence, chaos or fate into the author's life. We not only see the progress of all these other people's life stories but we get to see how the author herself makes the transition from being the protected daughter of a loving family, living a comfortable life, to someone face to face with true evil, seeing the largest crime in recorded human history through the eyes of her parents. Don't miss this one, seriously. So powerful and so well told.
Thank you to #NetGalley, the author and publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
First of all, I felt very honoured to be able to read a copy of this powerful book. It is hard to categorize in some ways because it can fit into several different genres as the title leads one to expect. At different points throughout the book we learn about the experiences of the author's Hungarian parents as they lived not only through the Holocaust but also through what came afterwards. As a young woman growing up, the author did not really know what the Holocaust was or why she didn't have a large extended family as her classmates all seemed to have. She and her older brother led protected lives where their parents did their best to keep them shielded from all the horrors that had been a part of their worlds. When a body is found in a crate underneath her parents cottage, the violence of the act leads to a search to better understand her parents experiences and come to grips with the trauma that she feels as a result of what happened.
The book is also part memoir as the author reflects on her own growing up and search for self, her love of the outdoors and the Muskoka region where the family cottage is located. her moving away from the family she holds dear and the cottage she loves to find a new "family" in her synagogue in the US. She left knowing that she could come back each year to spend time with those she loved in a place that was very dear and safe to her. When it became evident that a violent act had touched upon this sacred space it drew her to question whether she or her family would ever be able to go back and feel the same sense of peace and joy as they had felt before.
In her efforts to deal with the trauma, Deborah began an in depth research to learn more about the victim and what her life had been like. As the story is told she moves between past and present, her parents story and that of the victim and this led to some repetition which was a minor drawback in the story. The answers to what happened are not given out all at once and as a reader I was enthralled and drawn in to find out who the killer had been and what the motive was. When the answers were finally revealed there was an added sense of horror in that the family knew the murderer.
Lastly, the book is a book that speaks to justice - justice for those harmed via the Holocaust and for the family and victim of this heinous crime. Kudo's to the author for the time and effort that she put into her research. I hope it has given her a sense of peace as to how things turned out.
In Canada these days we often hear about generational trauma especially in regards to the treatment of the First Nation's people of our land. This isn't an easy concept to grasp for those of us who come from a life of relative privilege but this book demonstrates how the trauma of the parents does indeed affect those who come afterwards. I think it is a book which has an important place in our modern world where hatred and violence seem to be on the rise again in so many places. Aside from being a fascinating piece of investigative work to read, it also has a moral lesson to leave. I highly recommend it.
The Crate is a beautifully written true story written by the daughter of Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivors. This read was not what I initially expected. The title can be misleading, because the story is much more of a memoir versus a typical true crime story. It reads more like a novel than nonfiction. This book is actually the weaving together of several stories that move back and forth between the present and the past. The author talks about her present-day life with her family, after moving from Canada to the U.S. She describes in vivid detail how her parents survived and escaped the Holocaust in Hungary, eventually building a life in Canada. The author also delves into her childhood and reflects upon how her family history has impacted her life. The discovery of the murder at her parents’ cottage retreat propels the author to explore their experiences and memories during the Holocaust and the trauma she feels as a result of the present-day murder. The detailing of the murder is another storyline that is woven throughout the book.
The author’s storytelling, specifically about her overprotective childhood, her family, and her parents’ experiences is extremely well done. I felt like I really knew the author and her parents through the eloquent and descriptive writing. I felt as though I was actually with her, sharing her experiences. Since the author was not aware of the Holocaust while growing up, and didn’t know why she had no extended family, the way she became aware of her parents’ experiences was particularly moving. The description of her parents’ experiences was one of the most powerful and heart-wrenching accounts of the Holocaust that I’ve read. The depiction of the cottage in Ontario, Canada stimulated all of my senses. I could feel how beautiful and peaceful it was, and how nurtured and protected the author felt while there. I was moved by how lovingly the author wrote about her parents.
The memoir portion of this book was more emotionally compelling and impactful than the true crime portion. Although the true crime portion was precisely and exhaustively researched, I did not find the storyline to be as interesting as the other portions of the book. The author attempts to draw parallels between her present life, her parents’ history, and the murder; however, the sections regarding the murder did not always seem to fit in well with the rest of the story. The story moved back and forth between her parents’ history, the murder, and the author’s present life. This became repetitive at times, and the timeline, specifically regarding the crime, could be confusing. That being said, the positives of this book far outweighed some of the minor drawbacks for me.
It is so hard to capture the essence of this book, since it contains so many stories and is so multi-layered. There are many universal themes that are covered in this book including: love, loss, war, honor, evil, search for self, identity and belonging. This debut book poignantly illustrates how the experiences of our ancestors’ impact generations of the future. The author writes about her family and experiences with unflinching honesty. I applaud her bravery for sharing her life and revealing herself to the reader with such candor. Review by Guest Fairy Ronna.
The Crate: A Story of War, A Murder, and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison was two stories linked together by family, love and understanding. I have to admit that it was a little confusing when I first began reading this book but by the end it all fit together perfectly.
Deborah Vadas Levison grew up in Toronto, Canada. She was the daughter of parents that survived the Holocaust. Growing up, Deborah was aware of her parent's accent and peculiarities. She knew that her parents had grown up in Hungary during the Holocaust but knew very little about their lives growing up back then or how they arrived in Canada from Hungry. Deborah's parents went out of their way to shield their children from many things and protect them the best they could. When Deborah started school, it became evident how she and her family differed from her classmates and their families. Deborah's family still ate authentic Hungarian dishes that her friends disliked. She dressed differently from her friends since Deborah's mother made all her clothes rather than buy them. Deborah also realized early on that she did not have an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins like her friends. When Deborah's sixth grade teacher assigned her class the project of making a family tree, Deborah almost reluctantly was forced to ask her mother about her relatives. That was the way Deborah began to learn about her relatives and the Holocaust. Her mother's story went out in bits and pieces over the span of years. It was something that was extremely hard for mother and even more difficult for her father to talk about.
During Deborah's youth one very important event happened. Her parents were intent on purchasing a summer home on a lake in Muskoka. They ended up building a cozy cottage where the family spent many memorable summers. Their cottage became a "symbol of their victory over the Nazis. Once the cottage was completed, the Vadas family spent every summer there. It became their "safe haven, a refuge from their haunted memories". Deborah looked back very fondly on the summers they spent at the cottage on the lake. The tradition continued even as Deborah married, had a family and moved to Connecticut in the United States. Her brother and his family and her now elderly parents and Deborah and her family all converged at the cottage to spend a week together every summer until one summer the unimaginable happened. A crate with a woman's remains was found under the cottage. Deborah's extended family would never be the same. The peace and contentment the cottage offered would be lost.
The story line alternated between Deborah's parent's history during the Holocaust and the mystery of the crate. Near the end, the two story lines found common ground and wrapped themselves around each other. Deborah Vadas Levison brilliantly told this touching story. It is so worth reading and I recommend it very highly.
This is a fascinating story, well actually several fascinating stories, all woven together quite seamlessly through Deborah Vadas Levison's narration and her need for self-discovery. While uncovering the truth behind a horrific murder that shook her family to its core, Levison delves into her family's Holocaust story and the unimaginable experiences that shaped her parents, and thus she and her brother, to be the people they are today. Levison's storytelling makes you feel that you are in the room with her and you are listening to her mother tell her wartime tales. I had to put the book down several times during those chapters, to get my head around the atrocities that her parents witnessed.
This is a well-written, sad, but beautifully told story, and moreover, it gives the reader an insight to the author and her family, in a way that readers rarely get to experience.
Wonderful story. I started reading this because it was recommended by a friend and I wasn’t disappointed. True story that was written by the daughter of Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivors. The mystery aspect (crate with the remains of a woman was found at her parents’ summer cottage) made this book a page turner. As the crate mystery unfolds, the author also unveils more and more about her parents and grandparents during the holocaust. Again, this was a true story and the murder took place in Ontario, Canada to where her parents escaped after the war.
When I first saw the description of this book - I thought, there is no way to really draw these two things together. Well, okay, I was wrong, but some of the threads really didn't seem to fit.
I read through this book, and while I loved the historical pieces that were mixed in, I felt this author was extreme in many of her descriptions. There were places where this could have been cut down to fewer words, with just as much meaning - and nothing is left out. I could almost feel her anxiety through the pages of the book.
The history of her parents and their time of living through the concentration camps, fleeing Communism, and their eventual landing in Canada was quite interesting. The threads of history, the stories, all combined to make a compelling piece.
Now add in the murder - interesting, but very spread out, and not always jointed well together in the book. When she started drawing comparisons between herself and the victim, I rather tuned out the next several paragraphs, finding nothing that really concluded that.
Interesting book, but overall was just okay. I absolutely enjoyed the historical sections more.
An engaging memoir written by the daughter of Holocaust survivors
A precisely dismembered and shockingly well preserved female body is discovered at the family’s lakeside cabin and the author’s physician brother is the lead suspect. Trying to shield the author from worry, he isn’t very forthcoming with information, which makes her anxious and even slightly suspicious. But the author understands her brother’s reserve for they grew up in a family with Hungarian parents who survived the Holocaust and who kept truths from thier children to shield them from the horrors they and other family members and friends endured.
The memoir begins in Florida and moves fluidly through places and times as the author weaves a complicated and nuanced story of the dark chapters of her parents' lives as well as that of her own.
Ultimately, evil can not rob the family of their bond, and their cherished memories and plans for future ones.
This was a heart wrenching true crime, but it reads like a novel. There is no boring police procedural, there is just real people, raw emotions, and horrible tragedy. The author describes in great detail her parents survival during the holocaust, their hopes and dreams of a new life and owning a small lake front property of their own, and the shocking murder that touched their lives when a body was discovered on their land. This was an incredible read. 5 stars
This is an amazing story in my opinion. If you ever start feeling sorry for yourself, read this book and you will find your problems pale in comparison to the author's parents and family members. Once they had finally made to Canada after fleeing Hungary following World War II, their safe space was violated by a murder that impacted family and victims in many ways. Both sad and uplifting.
I could not put this book down!!! What a heartbreaking, beautiful, gut-wrenching and painful interwoven set of stories. I felt like I was part of Deborah's family, eating the wonderfully-described food her mom made, learning about her parents' history, and being part of the unfolding story relating to the shocking murder that rocked her family. This story needs to be made into a movie, or a mini-series. It took me only a handful of days to read the entire book, and each night when I reluctantly put it away to sleep, the story and characters stayed with me until I was able to pick it up again. I thought the relaying of her parents' history during the Holocaust was so important as well as heartbreaking to read. And while the book is full of drama, the most beautiful aspect for me was seeing the fierce bond of a family, the love that brings them together, reminding me that above all else, nothing else really matters in life.
An immensely engaging story. I highly recommend it. The author writes beautifully about her immediate instinct to protect her parents from further pain, a deep seated emotional reaction recognized by many 2nd generation Holocaust survivors.
A gripping book about the horrors of the Holocaust and a modern day murder. Every emotion is covered. Very well written and it was read in two days because I simply could not put it down. I highly recommend this book.
Canada became the safe haven for a young Jewish couple who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Canada is where they were able to create a family, build a cottage on a lake in Muskoka, and enjoy all of the wonderful things life had to offer. Yet when they thought all terrors were in the past with the war, a horrifying discovery is uncovered. In the crawl space under their cabin, a crate was found and within it, the remains of an unknown human being. Deborah Vadas Levison, daughter of the Holocaust survivors, tells readers her family’s story of what they had to endure not only during this dark present time, but also what her parents had to endure in the dark days of their past.
This is not a fictional murder mystery. This is not a Whodunit novel. This is not an intense thriller. This is a real story about a real woman and her family who endured real hardships. The Crate is author Deborah Vadas Levison’s first novel and she has made an incredible impression in the published world. Her story goes deeper than any mystery novel could, for she focuses on elements other than the terrifying murder her family was forced to become a part of. Instead, Levison focuses on being together with family, overcoming the past to live a better future, and examining the ever constant battle of good versus evil.
What truly brings The Crate to life is really Levison herself. Her writing style will make readers feel as if she is sitting in the room with them. Readers will be able to witness everything her and her family endured by her descriptive imagery, the good and the bad, and feel as if they endured it, as well. They will feel a connection to her as she asks questions about topics many people question and ponder. They will be on a roller coaster ride of emotion as she takes them through dark times and happy times. Levison expresses so much within her story that readers will not truly understand until they have read it themselves.
Readers should also expect to not hear just one story, for there are a plethora of stories to be found within The Crate, taking place in the past and the present, all about different people who were connected to the author. Levison tells of her present day life with her husband and children. She journeys into the past, remembering stories her parents told her of their struggles in surviving the Holocaust as well as their escape to freedom and beyond. She reminisces on times during her childhood and memories with her brother. She also tells the story of the murdered victim, Samantha Collins, sharing her life with readers so that others can remember her, as well.
All of the stories readers will hear from Levison refer back to the aforementioned focal points within her book. Stories of her family will remind readers that family is the most important thing in life and, during the good and bad times, family is always there. Stories of what her parents endured during the war and even what the Samantha Collins went through before her death give a dark reminder that there is evil in the world and it will always be a mystery as to how people can be so cruel. However, these same stories also remind people that there is also good in the world and it will always be there to battle against the evil, no matter how strong it may be.
The Crate is a work of nonfiction for readers who are looking for something more than just another mystery thriller. It is a story of life and death, of good and evil, of happiness and hardship. Readers will receive multiple stories upon picking up Levison’s first novel and are in for quite the emotional and powerful journey as Levison takes them through her life and the life of her loved ones. Levison breathes so much life into a story involving a murder and, even during the darkest of times, she reminds readers of what is truly important in the one life that we are all given.
**Originally published on my blog Roll Out Reviews on August 9, 2018**
A fascinating and memorable book that combines the horrors of life under the Nazi regime in Hungary with a modern day true crime , this book may seem like a strange blend but it is one that works well. It is clearly a very personal work for the author, as not only does it involve her family history but it also describes a horrific crime that came to light on her family's summer property. The book opens with a shocking phone call to the author, where her brother reveals that a crate containing human remains has been found hidden under their family's cabin, the dismembered body of what would eventually be revealed to be a young woman. The book is broadly split into two parts, the first half deals mainly with the history of the author's parents who fled communist Hungary in the years following WWII. Both were Jewish and suffered atrocities when the Nazi's invaded in 1944, which scarred them for the rest of their lives. Deprivation, starvation and witnessing the death of close family members left scars which are passed down the generations. The second half of the book focuses on the family after the gruesome discovery, and also on the young woman at the centre of it, as well as the capture and trial of her killer. Both historical and modern tragedies are woven together cleverly, to make this book a heartbreaking testament to the fact that violence is always with us. I read and reviewed and ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
A grisly discovery under her family’s Toronto cottage suddenly brings back author, Deborah Vada Levison’s parents’, long set-aside memories of the horrors of the Shoah. As renovations are being completed on her family’s idyllic get-away spot, a crate containing human remains is found under the cottage. Vada Levison’s memoir explores trauma and survivor’s guilt as she recounts the atrocity faced by her parents in the Holocaust and the present day shattering of their new-found peace.
Vada Levison recounts her family story in remarkable detail as she explores her parents’ story of survival as well as the crime involving their family cottage. I found her own search for a Jewish identity very relatable. The parallel between her desire to shelter her children, especially the youngest, from the discovery of the body at their family cabin and her own parents’ desire to shelter her, as a child, from their experiences in the Shoah was interesting. The book is very well-written. As more and more survivors are lost, the preservation and retelling of their stories becomes all the more essential. So the world never forgets.
This was a compelling story. I would like to thank the author for a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. I look forward to reading more from her.
This is a great book about how the past and how it can shape our present even without our awareness. Although the murder at the author's parents cabin and her parents' Holocaust experience aren't directly related (a fact that seems to have really bothered some reviewers that I feel are missing the point), the journey of learning about her parents' past and unearthing the truth about the murder worked really well together for me in this book. It's easy to push the violence and horror that lives in the hearts of people to the background until it's pushed into our faces, and to me that is what happens in this story. But it's not only about facing the horror - the author also comes to see the deep good that lives in the souls of so many, from the people who managed to get her grandfather's body into a marked grave to the many others she lists in the book as heroes of the Holocaust.
I probably connected more with this author because I grew up with the same Canadian summer lake life and I also moved from Canada to the US, which made me enjoy the book even more.
War, Murder, and Justice are timeless themes; but, have a particular meaning in this well crafted book. You will learn about Holocaust survivors and their children. How could a human murder someone in such a despicable manner as described in this book? How could large numbers of humans carry out genocide on a mass scale? How could anyone who has had to deal with these experiences not be crippled with nightmares; and yet live a good life?
This book addresses these issues in a personal way. It should leave you shaking at times as it did me as I've been along with my wife to an area along the Danube in Budapest as described in this book where unspeakable atrocities took place. Yet, it also highlights the good that some did.
Please read, reflect, and determine to never be a bystander.
Arthur Pitz, Ph.D. (History) Professor Emeritus and an Adjunct at Black Hawk College in Moline, IL; and, a Fulbright Specialist
This is a memoir which is a thoroughly engaging read and is true story written by the daughter of Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivor. The book is about a grisly discovery of a dead body hidden in a crate beneath the family cottage north of Toronto, and how the trauma of the discovery reawakened the memories of her family's survival of the Holocaust in Hungary many years earlier. the book tells several stories which move back and forth between the present and the past but blend beautifully together. I was hooked after the first few pages and could not put the book down until I finished the story.
A very compelling read, braiding together the Holocaust, a modern-day murder, and a search for belonging. I found the themes fitting together in kind of a forced way, playing the murder off the Holocaust survivors, ricocheting back to searching for a sense of self and belonging, retuning to the Holocaust, and back through the maze again. Both major stories—The Holocaust and the murder—are independently vividly told. It’s just that the one doesn’t quite compliment the other as I think the author intended. Still, I couldn’t put it down.