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VICTOR by Mordicai Gerstein

VICTOR

By Mordicai Gerstein

Age Range: 13 & up

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-38142-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Gerstein (The Giant, 1995, etc.) brings to this novelization of the life of the so-called savage of Aveyron a sustained intensity that proves both haunting and chastening. As the French revolutionaries begin time anew with year one of the new calendar, a feral child, who has somehow survived on his own in the wild, is delivered into the care of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a doctor and teacher of deaf children in Paris. Itard believes he can teach the boy he names Victor; Victor learns to stay clean and dressed, to recognize objects, and to communicate in essential ways. But although he can spell some words, Victor never learns to speak. Gerstein handles language with grace, with a precision that makes tangible Victor’s beautiful, silvery laugh, dark eyes, animal’s quickness of movement, and profound sense of smell. The novel—which moves among Itard’s point of view, Victor’s, that of the deeply kind woman, Sophie GuÇrin, who nurtures Victor and shuns the doctor’s severity, and her daughter Julie’s—confronts the most basic notions of what it means to be civilized, what it means to be human, and whether a sense of justice can be imposed or learned. The story indicates that Itard failed his charge in two crucial areas: His approval was conditional on Victor’s behavior; and he refused to address Victor’s sexuality. Readers will be mesmerized, and even stirred by the questions Gerstein raises and attempts to answer. (Fiction. 13+)