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SWORN ENEMIES by Carol Matas

SWORN ENEMIES

By Carol Matas

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-553-08326-0
Publisher: Bantam

 The author of Lisa's War (1989) turns to a another grim chapter in Jewish history: the kidnapping and forced conversion of Jewish boys by the Russian Czar's army in the 19th century. Her carefully researched story is told, in alternation, by two young men. Aaron, 16, the highly respected best student at Odessa's yeshiva, is soon to be married; though carefully observant, and knowing it's forbidden, he is secretly meeting his betrothed (innocently--they debate subjects like Job). After one tryst, he is kidnapped by Zev, a vengeful former classmate who's jealous of Aaron's brilliance and prospects. Zev is also observant, but he's been brutalized by abuse; without a qualm, he sends Aaron into the horror--and almost certain death--of the army. Starved, beaten, humiliated, and driven without respite, Aaron is one of the few survivors in his original group, but- -after careful reasoning about God's commands--submits to baptism to save his life. Zev, too, is caught; ironically, he contrives to avoid conversion. With two friends, Aaron plots escape, only to be caught by Zev, who ends by coming with them--and betraying Aaron yet again. Vicious and unrepentant, Zev is more than a foil for Aaron's moral struggle against a hatred that can only destroy him too; he is chillingly believable. To her credit, Matas offers them no reconciliation; and conscientious Aaron knows that he also bears some guilt for what has passed between them. A harrowing, thought-provoking, skillfully written novel about a past whose evil legacy persists. (Fiction. YA)