At first this book may have the appearance of being a memoir but is in fact a work of fiction.
The tale is based round a Polish Jewish family who, along with thousands of others, have been forced by German occupiers to live in a rundown, disintegrating, ghetto in Warsaw. As history records this, regrettably, was by no means a one-off occurrence; the awful situation and treatment was repeated time and again across the world.
The author has done a good job of bringing to life the various characters with all their differences and quirks. He has also managed to describe their varying emotions in such a manner as to enable the reader to understand and empathise.
In the beginning he shows how the youngest, Abigail, frequently withdraws into her own world. Experience has shown how this is a true reaction for many young people who have suffered in their lives, whether similarly or not. It is probably an automatic, self-preservation reaction. Later, circumstances develop to the point where she suddenly matures way beyond her years. Again this appears to be true for the majority of children who live in and through war. Inevitably, in the circumstances and so as to progress, she has to learn and master new skills at which she becomes adept. In war the survival instinct often leads to this and frequently amplifies a person’s intellect even, if in theory, with someone so young, it is still considered to be developing. The reader is also presented with Abigail’s elder brother (and his protective attitude), mother (weakened by the loss of her husband) and, later, various acquaintances who join together to resist the German soldiers.
The author conveys, in a very realistic manner, some of the inner emotions and philosophising experienced by the characters. Readers may well be able to identify because some of these probably arise in their own everyday lives when obstacles and difficulties are encountered. Naturally, in times of war and occupation these are more intense.
The reader is also shown how Abigail’s innocence finally departs and, along with the other participants, as horrible as it may be, develops a real satisfaction from the deaths of their captors. The author is again showing the reader how war impacts upon those attitudes and acceptances usually considered the ‘norm’. How, in such time of intense and unwarranted suffering, people can, and frequently do, change.
To say any more would spoil the read for future readers.
The ending is sort of expected and yet unexpected. Again it wold be unfair to say more.
The book is not a drama per se. It follows the daily life of the participants showing all they suffer and endure in the process of simply trying to exist. And yet it is drama. There is also fierce action toward the end. The whole hangs together very well.
This is not an easy, light read. It brings the horrors of war and occupation to life but at the same time the author has taken care not to include unnecessary descriptions of violence and suffering. Where such details are included, as required to develop and progress the tale, the author has not indulged in gratuitous picture making. That is not to say the descriptions are unreal. In fact, they are probably more troubling by virtue of avoiding the pitfalls other authors may well have fallen into. Though there is, apparently, an occasional historical and political anomaly, they by no means detract from the tale.
Four stars (4*).
The book is available in paperback and e-book formats:
Note: I usually avoid any mention of myself or my experiences in articles and posts in this website or blog. However, in support of some comments, I consider it right to add a little information. Though I am not Jewish nor was I ever forced to live in a Ghetto, I am able to identify with the character of Abigail. While but a young girl I was captured and tortured by the Gestapo and left for dead. Subsequently I endured further brutal treatment and am able to affirm the fact such experiences as well as the general trauma of war does make one grow-up very quickly. Readers, if interested, may discover details of these and other events in some of my books.