Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

From the hugely acclaimed National Book Award finalist, a novel that will join the shortlist of classics about the Holocaust and the children caught up in it. Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar young boy whose family is driven from the countryside into the Warsaw Ghetto. As his family is slowly stripped away from him, Aron and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives, smuggling and trading things through the "quarantine walls" to keep their people alive, hunted all the while by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police (not to mention the Gestapo). Eventually Aron is "rescued" by Janusz Korczak, a Jewish-Polish doctor and advocate of children's rights famous throughout prewar Europe who, once the Nazis swept in, was put in charge of the ghetto orphanage. In the end, of course, he and his staff and all the children are put on a train to Treblinka, but has Aron managed to escape, to spread word about the atrocities, as Korczak hoped he would? 

My take: 2 looks
The buzz on this book was so great that I downloaded it almost the day it was released. It is more of a novella, at 166 pages on my e-reader. Honestly, if it had been much longer, I would not have finished it.

I have several issues with the story. First of all, I have to question the reason it was written. It has been done before, by many, by those who actually experienced it. If Shepard wanted to tell how the Holocaust affected a young person, we have The Diary of Anne Frank. If he wanted to present real life in the Warsaw ghetto, we have The Diary of Mary Berg. If he wanted to present it in a novel form, we have Jacob the Liar. Something for children, maybe? There is Milkweed.

So, you see, if you write a book about life for a Jew during the second world war, you'd better bring something new to the table. Shepard doesn't, in my opinion.

The story is told first-person from the point of view of Aron, not yet a teen when the Warsaw ghetto is sectioned off. Because of this, I assume, the narrative is very disjointed and fragmented. Ideas and descriptions are left hanging, and there are rather abrupt changes in flow and subject. In giving the author the benefit of the doubt, I would say that this is the way a boy in the ghetto would think. However, it would have been more effective if there had been a flow in the beginning, loosening and losing structure as Aron is affected by his circumstances.

There were many superfluous items in the story that were never fully developed. Why was his relationship with his father strained? Did his father treat all of the children that way, or just Aron? What became of Boris and his desire to kill Aron? What was the profound effect that must have existed because of Aron's forced friendship with Lejkin?

There are so many wonderful books which cover this tragic time in history. I cannot recommend this one.

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