Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Devil's Arithmetic

"We all have such stories. It is a brutal arithmetic. But I--I am alive. You are alive. As long as we breathe, we can see and hear. As long as we can remember, all those gone before are alive inside of us."

Last year I read Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, a beautiful retelling of the fairy tale as a holocaust story. I have just finished listening to another one of her books, The Devil's Arithmetic, a story of the holocaust for young adult readers. It, too, was beautifully written and a very powerful story, and the audiobook was beautifully read by Barbara Rosenblat.

Hannah is a young girl who is "tired of remembering." She doesn't understand or appreciate the family rituals of remembering family members and friends that were lost in the holocaust, and she doesn't want to hear those stories of the past again and again. But during the family's Seder, when she "opens the front door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she is transported to a polish village -- and the year is 1942." She become "Chaya" (which means "life") and she experiences the holocaust first-hand.

It's a powerful experience to read this book or listen to the audiobook version. There's not a word out of place. It was honest and riveting, (which is such a Jane Yolen thing) and it was heartbreaking. But it was also full of hope ... if we remember.

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