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One can't help sympathizing with Arnold, a Dutch schoolboy who is ostracized, tormented, and sometimes viciously beaten by his classmates. Why is he so persecuted? Because his father is a fervent Nazi (this is 1942) with a job at City Hall, and Arnold, like most kids, parrots his father's beliefs. The lead bully, Arnold discovers not quite by accident, is involved in a black market operation; and though Arnold is not above reporting the worst attacks to his father, he keeps mum about this and instead anonymously blackmails the older boys. This works the first time, but greed and a touch of revengeful glee drive him to a second demand, a trap, and, eventually, two years later, a severe near-fatal beating that lands him in hospital. Meanwhile, though, as the war progresses--or, from the Nazi viewpoint, doesn't--Arnold's father becomes more vehement and incessant in his spouting of party dogma (that he gives up a shot at a much-struggled-for mayor's job to stay with his sick wife makes him believably human, but no less appalling); and Arnold--spotting a German shooting or roundup here, and a Resistance newspaper there--begins to waver. He keeps quiet about teachers' veiled anti-German remarks; but when another student, a new boy in school who is a more committed Nazi, reports the teachers and some students, both boys are blamed by their classmates. Another time, Arnold is working for his father at the distribution center when the Resistance robs them of ration coupons, and he later finds that a girl he likes at school is involved in the operation. He promises her silence too, but when her father is taken away she believes that Arnold has betrayed them. So the stage is set for Arnold's stay in the hospital, with a captured, guarded Resistance man in the next bed--and for his self-committing decision to steal his father's gun for the man's escape. The story's major lack is that readers don't experience the inner processes of Arnold's conversion. Outwardly, though, his changing behavior (and this includes occasional questions to his father, himself, and the others) is gradual and convincing. And from the first page, the narrative crackles with the drama of Arnold's encounters.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Crown