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A Life Amid Loss

 

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Victor Zorza was born into a Jewish family in eastern Poland in 1925. At the age of 15 he fled from the Nazis and sought refuge in Russia, where he was sent to the Gulag and narrowly escaped death in a German bombing raid.  When Stalin granted his amnesty to Polish citizens in Soviet exile, Zorza left the country and transferred to England via the Middle East.

 

After the war, he became a self-taught journalist with both The Guardian and The Washington Post, and famously developed a unique analytical style which enabled him to detect early signs of strife in the Communist world.

 

After Zorza’s daughter, Jane, died of cancer in an English hospice in the summer of 1977, he committed himself to the promotion of hospice care and his political writing came to an end. A decade later, he returned to Russia to open a hospice in St Petersburg and co-found the Russian hospice movement. For most of his life, Zorza believed that his family had perished in the Holocaust, yet surprisingly, his sister had survived;  were reunited in 1904 after 53 years apart.

 

 

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Michael Wright (2006).Victor Zorza: A Life Amid Loss. Lancaster: Observatory Publications, 284 pp. (ISBN 0-9544192-1-9)

 

 

 

Victor Zorza: A life amid loss is the story of one man’s determination and remarkable achievement against the odds. It is also a story of pain and loss. Told through the testimonies of those who knew him best, with contemporaneous photographs and extracts from Victor’s taped conversations, this book gives an intriguing insight into the contradictory nature of this influential man. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the international development of hospice and end-of-life care. It will also appeal to those drawn to the human narrative of twentieth century conflicts in Europe.

 

 

 

 

Comments and reviews

 

This masterly account … has the feel of a thriller about it’. Robert Twycross, Foreword . (Robert Twycross is Emeritus Clinical Reader in Palliative Medicine, Oxford University).

 

‘[Victor Zorza] was a remarkable, warm calculating, arrogant, driven, impossible, amazing person. And, ten years after his death, he is brought back to life again in a way that should make every decent journalist proud … There is much else about Zorza in a new biography by Michael Wright … strangely poignant to read 37 years on.’ Peter Preston, An inspiration remembered, Observer Business and Media Section; 27 October 2006. (Peter Preston was editor of the Guardian from 1975 to 1995.)

 

‘Zorza is not an easy subject for a biographer. His memory lapses made it difficult for Zorza to recover his own story.  And his prickly relations with those close to him make Zorza an unsympathetic character at times. Wright made the job even more complicated for himself by deciding to make Zorza’s work in the hospice movement the story’s ’lead’, as a journalist would put it, even though Zorza is best known for his Kremlinology. But because of his thorough research, Wright ultimately sketches a compelling, nuanced portrait of a man whose life and works called out for extended treatment in a biography.’ Paul Moses (2003) Victor Zorza’s Mission. Death Studies 31: 855-860. (Paul Moses is Professor of English at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and a veteran New York City journalist.)

 

‘The book is an interesting read for anyone wanting to understand the development of the hospice movement in Eastern Europe. This includes the challenges of overcoming language and cultural barriers as well as taking a firm stand against societal pressures to adopt corrupt practices … there are some useful insights in this volume for those who aspire to pioneer in new situations or want to be inspired by one willing to take on the establishment.’ Philip J Wiffen (2007) Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy 21 (3): 111. (Paul Wiffen is a member of the Pain Research Unit, Churchill Hospital, Oxford).

 

 

Michael has taken five years collecting the material for this fascinating and detailed biography about a man who, at the outbreak of war in 1939, still a teenager, fled home on his own to Russia to escape the Nazis … Michael Wright’s biography captures this powerful character brilliantly and with the extensive material not only details the life of Victor Zorza and his family but the stormy events of European and world history from 1920 to Victor’s death in 1996.’ Michael Minton, Hospice Information Bulletin, July 2007. (Michael Minton is clinical director, Sir Michael Sobell House, Oxford).

 

 

‘Victor Zorza lived a most extraordinary life by any standards. It has been chronicled by Michael Wright as a publication from the International Observatory on End of Life Care … [it] must be read by all who try to understand loss and suffering … and shows how good can result nevertheless.’ Andrew Hoy, (2007) European Journal of Palliative Care 14 (1): 3. (Andrew Hoy is editor of the European Journal of Palliative Care and medical director of Princess Alice Hospice, Esher).

 

‘I cannot remember opening a book and finding its contents so totally different from what I expected. … Michael Wright tells this story with verve and passion. The book is cleverly constructed with a ‘backwards’ chronology … and he produces an accurate account of the Cold War. [It] deserves to have the widest readership.’ Michael Boudeaux, A heart given to helping hospices, Church Times, 12 January 2007. (Michael Bourdeaux is the President of Keston College, Oxford). To view full review

 

‘This book provides gripping insights into the terrible conflicts of 20th century Europe and, more importantly, into the contradictions of this influential man. Fascinating reading. Highly recommended’ Roger Woodruff (2006) International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care Newsroom 09-06. (Roger Woodruff was director of palliative care at Austin Health, Melbourne from 1996-2007 and is a board member of the International Association of Hospice and Palliative Care).

 

‘I have just finished reading Michael Wright’s biography of my uncle; fascinating, so much that I did not know … please let him know that I am impressed and he has done an excellent job with a difficult subject.’ Rupert Wilson, letter to the publisher.

 

‘I just spent the last two days reading [the Zorza biography] non stop and its wonderful. You have done an incredible job of putting together a wealth of information about this extraordinary man— which must have been a challenge, as difficult as he probably was in person. Congratulations.’ Liliana De Lima, email. (Liliana de Lima is executive director of the  International Association of Hospice and Palliative Care).

 

‘I truly appreciate your Zorza book—timely and well done. Bravo!’ Zachery Morfogen, letter to the author. (Zachery Morfogen is the founding chair emeritus of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the National Hospice Foundation, USA).