As historical fiction, this offering is fine, but it is not nonfiction by any stretch of the imagination.



Holocaust survivor Gruenbaum has a story to tell.

From prewar childhood in Prague to Terezin (and participation in its infamous performances of Brundibar) and liberation by the Red Army, a first-person narration relates Gruenbaum’s story; although his father perished, remarkably, he, his mother, and his sister survived together. In an introduction, Gruenbaum describes his story’s path to publication some 70 years after the end of the war. After many rejections of his original, picture-book manuscript, his story was picked up with the suggestion that his experiences be retold by a professional writer in a much longer book. What follows is Hasak-Lowy’s re-creation of Gruenbaum’s experiences, told in a childlike first person and featuring novelistic flourishes such as extensive, “recreated” dialogue. In a lengthy afterword, Hasak-Lowy describes his process, which included a trip to Prague and Terezin and consultation with Gruenbaum. In writing, he "elaborate[ed] on the fragments of [Gruenbaum’s] memories" by "fill[ing] in gaps on a very regular basis," and "suppl[ied] large parts" of the personalities and actions of the characters "in order to bring the scenes with them to life." Gruenbaum is “very pleased with the results,” but moving though it is, the book simply does not meet the definition of nonfiction, which the label “memoir” implies.

As historical fiction, this offering is fine, but it is not nonfiction by any stretch of the imagination. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8486-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Sandwiched between telling lines from the epic of Gilgamesh (“…the warrior’s daughter, the young man’s bride, / he uses her, no one dares to oppose him”) and the exposure of a migrant worker–trafficking ring in Florida in the mid-1990s, this survey methodically presents both a history of the slave trade and what involuntary servitude was and is like in a broad range of times and climes. Though occasionally guilty of overgeneralizing, the authors weave their narrative around contemporary accounts and documented incidents, supplemented by period images or photos and frequent sidebar essays. Also, though their accounts of slavery in North America and the abolition movement in Britain are more detailed than the other chapters, the practice’s past and present in Africa, Asia and the Pacific—including the modern “recruitment” of child soldiers and conditions in the Chinese laogai (forced labor camps)—do come in for broad overviews. For timeliness, international focus and, particularly, accuracy, this leaves Richard Watkins’ Slavery: Bondage Throughout History (2001) in the dust as a first look at a terrible topic. (timeline, index; notes and sources on an associated website) (Nonfiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-88776-914-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Tundra Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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Lyrical writing focuses on the aftermath of the Holocaust, a vital, underaddressed aspect of survivor stories.



Following his liberation from the Buchenwald death camp, Romek didn’t know how to reclaim his humanity.

Romek’s childhood in his Polish shtetl of Skarżysko-Kamienna, where he was the youngest of six loving siblings, wasn’t wealthy, but it was idyllic. Skarżysko-Kamienna was “forests and birdsong,” with “the night sky stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.” His family was destroyed and their way of life obliterated with the Nazi invasion of Poland, and Romek lost not just memories, but the accompanying love. Unlike many Holocaust memoirs, this painfully lovely story begins in earnest after the liberation, when Romek was among 1,000 Jewish orphans, the Buchenwald Boys, in need of rehabilitation. Having suffered years of starvation, disease, and being treated as animals, the boys were nearly feral: They fought constantly, had forgotten how to use forks, and set fire to their French relief camp dormitory. Some adults thought they were irredeemable. With endless patience, care, and love, the mentors and social workers around them—themselves traumatized Holocaust survivors—brought Romek back from the brink. Even in a loving and protective environment, in a France where the boys were treated overwhelmingly kindly by the populace, it took time to remember goodness. Parallels between anti-Semitism and racism in the U.S. and Canada are gentle but explicit.

Lyrical writing focuses on the aftermath of the Holocaust, a vital, underaddressed aspect of survivor stories. (historical note, timeline) (Memoir. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0600-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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