Are you yearning for an astounding story written with a passionate voice to take you away from your troubles? Look no further than The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann by Gregor Collins.
Astonishing and assured, the memoir recounts both the years the author was caregiver to a remarkable woman and his life as an actor. “Acting found me, which is why I knew I couldn’t ignore it.” Admittedly self-absorbed, Collins writes honestly about the loneliness and exasperation inherent in an acting career. At age 32, he becomes a caregiver for Maria Altmann and learns the feeling of truly loving a job. Rather than just feeding pills to a ninety-year old woman, caregiving for him turns out to be a two way street.
Collins has a stout, sensitive heart. He breathes life into the story by inserting his deepest thoughts and feelings. His recounting of Maria Altmann’s story is done with reverence. “Maria is a bundle of charm snuggled under a blanket of love nestled inside a basket of sweetness.” The author’s lust for living life to the fullest spills off the pages. In his relationship with Maria, two effervescent personalities comingle to make sparks fly.
He describes Holocaust refugee, Maria Altmann, as a spitfire woman with amazing intellect and quick wit. A member of one of the wealthiest, cultured families in Western Europe, she was well connected in the musical world. She doted on her children, grandchildren and caregivers. She shared her husband’s passion for opera and had a huge crush on tenor, Placido Domingo. She and her husband, Fritz (a survivor of Dachau) narrowly escaped from Austria in 1938 and ultimately made their way to Los Angeles. In 2004 she won a Supreme Court case to restore to her family Gustav Klimt artwork stolen by the Nazis. When she met Collins in 2008, she was a woman grappling with the challenges of aging, but dancing her way through life.
The reader is engaged from the get go. The author’s writing is fresh and enjoyable. Playful banter between he and Maria sparkles throughout. Moments of hilarity alternate with deeply tender scenes. At one point, Maria accuses Collins of looking like a painter because he wears a baseball cap too much. “You should let your hair breathe,” she chides. Another time she tells him he is the only good part of the end (of life). The narrative jumps around a bit and would have benefitted from an editor’s pen, but this is a minor issue considering the story’s impact.
Lest we think Mr. Collins gave up on his acting career, he reiterates that he cannot separate his life from his art. He recently produced and starred in Goodbye Promise and currently working on the movie, A Good Day to Die, with Cloris Leachman.
The book is constructed of diary and memoir, bracketed with emails updating family and friends on Maria’s condition. Special features are photographs from Maria’s life and her relationship with her caregiver. A listing of influential people in Maria’s life with her comments on each one is in the back of the book. Chapter headings are indicated by dates, photographs and provocative (sometimes racy) quotes.
The Accidental Caregiver is a truly unique love story. Gregor Collins gives us a beautiful, intense memoir not to be missed. Highly recommended. Keep your tissues handy.
Article first published as Book Review: The Accidental Caregiver by Gregor Collins on Blogcritics.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
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