The Kindness of Strangers

Kindness of StrangersA few weeks ago I posted a review of The Sun and Her Stars, Donna Rifkind’s bio of the remarkable Salka Viertel. I turned next to Viertel’s own memoir, The Kindness of Strangers. While the narrative covers some of the same anecdotes and events of Viertel’s life, it was a pleasure to read her own words and excerpts from the letters between Viertel and her husband Berthold as well as the extended portion about her childhood and acting career in Germany and Austria. There’s more emotion in her own telling, and that was a treat.

Towards the end of the memoir, I was struck by Viertel’s comment, “…it occurs to me that as the years went by, my life ceased to be solely my own. It became like the estuary of a big river into which other streams flowed. I could not influence their course but I was affected by it.” Her husband, siblings, and children were scattered around the world; the  writers, artists, and actors she befriended were always coming and going; and her precarious financial state kept her on the move. Many of our lives are like that. We juggle friendships and love relationships from different times and places, appreciating the memories and connections we’ve made, watching as the trajectories of their lives spin towards us and away. As we get older, these connections take on more emotional weight, more poignancy. There’s sadness but also the richness of memories, and that’s what Viertel captures in her memoir.


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