The mostly fictional history of a real survivor of Nazi and Soviet atrocities reads more like a history than a novel.
When researching her grandmother's history for the adult memoir Bashert: A Grandaughter’s Holocaust Quest (2002), Simon came across the intriguing, sparse record of Esfir Manevich, one of the sole survivors of the Nazi liquidation of the Kobrin ghetto in what is now Belarus. This novel constructs a life story for Esfir, only 12 years old during the 1944 massacre, vanished from the historical record after the liberation of Kobrin. Simon's fictional Esfir is two years older than her real-life counterpart; as a 22-year-old looking back after the war, she recounts her life from 1936 to 1946. This adult recounting of the history of a child from ages 7 to 14, combined with constantly layered-in dates, facts, and historical asides, maintains a dry, emotionless distance from Esfir. The horror of Jewish World War II childhood—even for a blonde, pale child who passes for Polish—is nonetheless impossible to miss. Seven-year-old Esfir moves into Aunt Perl's boardinghouse in the nearby city of Brest-Litovsk, befriends the older girls (secular, Socialist, Zionist students) who live there, and grows older in an increasingly dangerous Poland (occupied in this brief period by the Nazis, the Soviet Union, the Nazis, and then the Soviets once more).
For Holocaust and World War II completists. (author's note, Yiddish glossary) (Historical fiction. 11-14)