Monday, May 25, 2015

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

ISBN: 978-0-7710-7998-6

I've read a lot of books about the Holocaust in my life. I'm Jewish and it has been important for me to learn about what happened in Europe before, during and after World War II. The Book of Aron is a completely original take on a child living in the Warsaw ghetto and a look into the benevolence of Janusz Korczak. 

Aron, of course, is the aforementioned child. When his father gets a job in Warsaw, he decides to move his family from a small Polish town. Not long after, the Jews of Warsaw are forced to live in close quarters and their basic human rights are stripped from them. Aron, along with some friends, become a gang of smugglers, doing what they must to survive. Typhus and lice are factors, the quality of life is piss-poor. Ultimately, Aron loses his family to illness and the concentration camps and becomes an orphan. It is then when he meets Janusz Korczak--Pan Doktor: a man who had dedicated his life to the children of Warsaw. He takes care of Aron just like the rest of "his" children. His days are spent trying to get enough food to feed his orphanage, all the while not turning anyone away. His fate will be the death camp Treblinka, but only by choice--he refused to leave the sides of the children he had done his best to provide for. 

I don't think I've ever read desperation described like Shepard does in the form of Aron's actions. After being forced into some deplorable things, he regrets them but the reader never gets the idea that he didn't have to do what he did. He made his decisions based on survival, not profit. Also, he is just a friggin kid!

And Korczak...I really didn't know anything about the doctor before this novel, but I feel as though no one could have done a better job getting down to the soul of the man than the author. To call him a "good man" would be an insulting understatement--at least that is the picture that Shepard paints. 

I recommend The Book of Aron to anyone that likes to read. Jim Shepard has a reputation of doing his homework on the subjects that he writes about. If that's a fact, you, as a reader, can learn a great deal about an important humanitarian in a terrible time. I feel like I learned a lot about a topic that I already knew a great deal about. A different point of view of the same result: the worst time of your life and trying to get through it. 

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