Review by Heather Kuttai
I remember the day By Chance Alone won 2019 Canada Reads, the annual CBC Radio book debate. I had cheered for Max Eisen, the author, for the whole competition, but it was a nail-biting finish, and when the book was finally announced as the winner over the radio, I threw my arms up in the air and shouted loud enough for the neighbours to hear. It deserved to win; this story needed to be heard.
The theme of Canada Reads that year was “A Book That Moves You” and By Chance Alone certainly does. It is Max Eisen’s testimony of survival from Auschwitz, but it is also the simple yet profound fulfillment of a promise to his father to live to tell the story. With unfathomable resilience, Max does more than just live. He perseveres and goes on to educate thousands about the Holocaust, the horrors of war, and how we must continue to strive for a world that is rooted in love, respect, and compassion. To say that this memoir is painful and heartbreaking is an understatement. To describe it as courageous and hopeful also does not do it justice. It is a must read, because in doing so, you help Max keep his solemn vow to his dad.
Being able to tell Max how much I admired him for keeping his father’s final wish was one of the great honours of my life. With the help of the close-knit Saskatoon Jewish community who knew how much respect I had for him and his book, I was able to meet Max in person and I spent ample time talking to him about his experiences.
By Chance Alone was short listed for the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction and the winner of 2019 Canada Reads. Max Eisen is an Honourary degree holder from Trent University, Western University, and the University of Saskatchewan. He is a Hungarian Jew who was deported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 where he lost his entire family. He has devoted his life to education of the Holocaust and advocacy for peace. He lives in Toronto with his wife, Ivy.