INCANTATION

Echoes of the Holocaust reverberate through this 16th-century tale of a young Spanish woman who discovers through love, betrayal and tragedy that her family is secretly Jewish. Estrella has never questioned why she’s sometimes called “Esther” at home, why her family lights candles before dinner on Friday and other habits—until she reads a poster that describes the practices of Jews, who hide beneath a veil of Christianity to protect themselves. Meanwhile, a growing attachment with Andres, a neighbor, poisons her relationship with her closest friend Catalina, to whom he’s been promised. In revenge, Catalina goes to the authorities, setting in motion a chain of arrests, mock trials and at last, a huge auto-da-fé that leaves only Estrella and her grandmother alive. Having witnessed it all, Estrella washes off the ashes and sets out for the New World, vowing not to let herself or her descendants forget. More poet than historian, Hoffman focuses less on period detail than on her protagonist’s inner life and voice; her tale therefore has a timeless quality, though because she leaves the background vague, and also gives Estrella’s family elders mystical powers, it’s not her most convincing outing. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-316-01019-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2006

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Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin.

The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyne’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice.

Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

MAPPING THE BONES

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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