The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail. Pub. Black Dog Books, 2012.
Novels about the Holocaust are powerful stories and this one opens with a majestic quote from Nelson Mandela “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love”
It is the story of Hungarian sisters Hanna and Erika who with their parents are trucked to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944.
Hanna because her ability playing the piano is selected to play for the Kommandant while her sister and mother work in the quarry. They are starved and go through all the atrocities and indignities that the nazis inflicted on the Jews.
Horrifying but essential to know about. Holocaust fiction should be read by everyone in the hope that it will never happen again. Knowledge is power is it not?
Hanna and Erika’s story is heart warming and uplifting amongst the horror. So what makes it different? Well Hanna falls in love with the son of the Kommandant. Realistic? Yes indeed.
The ending is a revelation. For Intermediate and high school students. A good follow up to John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. Pub. Quercus, 2011.
Seventeen year old Alex has lost her parents and been diagnosed as having an inoperable tumour on the brain that has already taken away her sense of smell and taste. She goes walkabout in the forests near the Great Lakes to think things over and after meeting an 8 year old brat Ellie and her grandfather an Earth shattering thing happens that changes things for ever.
An electromagnetic pulse, EMP, of unknown origin, zaps the World, killing millions and changing young people and old people into something they were not before. It changes Alex.
The EMP cuts all solid state and computer operated machines so that communication is destroyed. The cities are destroyed to ashes and the civilisation that remains is reduced to survival mode and being America the very worst and best of human qualities is exposed.
The pulse has changed people in different ways depending it seems on the hormonal balance of the body. Teenagers either develop super senses as Alex does and some become flesh eating maniac zombies. Old people either die immediately or are rejuvinated.
Alex meets Ellie and ex soldier Tom and together they survive quite well. But then things change as pressure on the world increases, the trio are separated and Alex experiences the mayhem that the World has become.
Well written with a high level of tension and horror but well worth reading. Teenagers will find it absorbing.
Ilsa J. Bick is a new author for me and it seems this idea is ripe for at least one sequel.
Annexed by Sharon Dogar. Pub.Anderson Press, 2010.
This is a novel in two parts. The first part is life for Anne Frank, her familyand all nine people who lived in the Annex between July 13 1942 till 4 August 1944. It is told by Peter van Pels, who is known as Peter vn Daan in Anne’s diary, as he lies in the sick bay waiting for death in Mauthausen Death Camp.
Peter is 15 and he tells his version of the story of life inside the annex based on Anne’s diary.
It portrays Anne as a talkative girl with incredible passions and a sense of the importance of the diary she is leaving behind.”Somebody must tell our story”
It is the love/hate relationship between Anne and Peter that turned to love that is the core of the story as both realise what their fate may be. Anne wants to experience everything in life and Peter fears that he will die before he makes love to a girl. In the cramped circumstances of the annex they do find time for each other and it is this relationship that kept me going as a reader. It is beautiful.
Anne and Peter discuss many questions. Why don’t we fight? Why should God save us when he hasn’t saved so many? Will you still be Jewish after it is all over? Oh to have a choice.
The second part is the imagined life of Peter, based on historical recounts of life in the death camps, and it is too horrible to talk about. “Is anybody listening” cries Peter. You will have to read it yourself as everybody should.
The only comforting thing I can say is that Anne’s father survived the camps and when he read Anne’s diary he found it difficult to relate to the daughter he knew. Do we ever know our children he asked?
Plenty to think about here. And should any writer tamper with a classic story like that of Anne Frank? In this instance yes. It is necessary that we know what Anne went through after the family were discovered.
An incredible story of the boy who loved Anne Frank.
Into the Wilderness by Mandy Hager. Pub. Random House, 2010
Part 1 of this series The Crossing has just won the Senior Fiction Award in The NZ Post Children’s Book Awards and deservedly so.
I can’t tell you too much about this book as it will ruin it for readers of Part 1 and of course those reading this novel. Let me just say it is different in approach than the first part because the scenario is one of survival.
While both Parts have been about faith and belief, in this book that faith is more sorely tested and is proven both severely wanting yet having an element of truth.
The two white boys Joseph and Lazarus, who are cousins and have had the privileged life of the inner sanctum of the Blood of the Lamb faith, and two brown girls, Maryam and Ruth, who are victims of this faith, are thrown together on a sailing vessel headed to a future they have been told has been destroyed by the Tribulation.
Comparisons with the Great Fleet of Maori to Aotearoa are inevitable.
At their first landfall they find evidence that the Tribulation may well be correct and the Apostles of the Faith were sincere and as close to God as they claim. But is this true? and are there other islands and lands out there that have survived?
Drama hits the group in the form of strong sexual urges and a clash of faith and temperament particularly between Lazarus and Maryam. With Joseph’s health deteriorating rapidly tumultuous decisions have to be made.
After heading back to sea a huge storm hits the flimsy craft changing circumstances completely. The group find themselves in contact with a situation none of them knew about or can understand.
I can tell you no more, just get out and read it. Intermediate to Senior Secondary in appeal. The action is thrilling.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Pub. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005
The setting is probably around Munich but it is never stated. The main character is a young girl called Liesel who is about 9 years old at the start of the war and cannot read. She understands the power of words because of the propaganda that was such a huge part in the lives of German people after the election of Adolf Hitler.
Liesel is left by her mother at the house of Hans Hubermann, a remarkable man and a model for us all, for the duration of the war. Hans owes a Jewish family a debt, not in money, but for an incident that saved his life during World War One. This debt is called in when he agrees to hide a Jewish man, much like Anne Frank.
Liesel’s relationship with the Jewish man is the hub of the story, and through him she learns to read and witnesses in childlike terms the horrors of Nazi Germany and the war.
The book is narrated by Death, a busy character during wartime and a unique point of view it is. Structured in nine parts, this is an easy read novel that will have you mesmerised until the stunning ending.
This novel is suited to the older student and young adult but in all honesty if you are good enough to read this novel then do so. It is a story that has to be told and understood for ever.