Not a lot of books change the way you perceive things. While many spoon-feed you inspirational stories about the beauty of life, very few succeed at making you see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. Among the vast literature on concentration camps, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning really stands out. Not only does the author depict the inhuman conditions to which the prisoners were subjugated, but he tells it all from a professional point of view. Being a psychiatrist and a holocaust survivor himself, his perspective becomes all the more alluring and insightful. With a shrewd observation of details, he delves into the psychological evolution of the prisoners’ state-of-mind, guiding us step by step throughout the daily life at the concentration camp, while keeping in mind the big picture. He knows what it means when a prisoner does not want to get out of bed anymore in the morning, or why holding on to memories is not always the best solution when one feels dispossessed of even life’s smallest pleasures. Survival becomes a whole new world where one day can appear eternal whereas weeks would just fly, and where one’s humanity and sense of other become at stake.
For those like me who get drowned in life’s small nuisances and lose sight of the big picture, this man’s quest for meaning is as heartfelt and meaningful as any book on suffering and survival can be. It reminds us how fortunate we are in our own lives, and what little we do to endow our existence with meaning. Even after liberation, Frankl says prisoners’ lives were far from being a “happy ending”, as some of them went back to empty houses, while others who tried to seek comfort in friends and family were told that their stories were not the worst they’ve heard. It is as if all the cruelties they have endured do not mean anything in the end. The final message, I think, lies in the fact that survival is a constant struggle that goes on even after the fight is over. Not always do the best of us make it till the end, sometimes it is just luck, strength or divine intervention that keep us going.