When his Romanian town becomes part of Soviet Ukraine in 1940, how long can Natt’s naiveté last?
Eleven-year-old, asthmatic, Jewish Natt is happy in Zastavna, where he speaks five languages. There’s German at home, Ukrainian to speak to his Ukrainian neighbors, Hebrew from his secular, Zionist Hebrew school, Yiddish to talk to some of his Jewish neighbors, and, of course, Romanian at school. When Soviets take over Zastavna, Natt’s excited to learn Russian, too. He’s pleased about many changes the Soviets bring: The meanest teacher is gone, the new teacher is nice (if oddly nervous), and Natt will soon be a Pioneer with a red kerchief. But not all the changes are good. The Russians take over Natt’s house, and there’s never food anymore. Though Natt’s torn between the cynicism of his best friend and his mother’s attempts to paint a rosier picture, he sees the grim truth when his father is sent to a Siberian gulag. Soon Natt, too, is arrested, and this once-proud Pioneer is deemed “an Enemy of the People” and deported to Siberia with his mother. Basing her story on the experience of a beloved teacher, Ravel has Natt tell his own story in an ingenuous present tense that never loses its youthful quality even as it gains wisdom. Though a historical note focuses on Hitler, Natt never encounters the horrors of Nazis.
An accessible gateway to mid-20th-century Eastern European history. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-11)