A young Jewish boy in America confronts fear and tragedy during World War II in this dreamlike debut.
Karp calls this debut a memoir. The core events, he writes, are true, “seen from the interior of a young boy’s mind and flashed back through the dark lens of an old man’s remembrances.” The two stories center on Joseph, a Jewish boy in the 1940s who is haunted by macabre visions of a Nazi invasion of America. Each story effectively draws parallels between the ongoing war and the nightmarish situations Joseph endures in school and with his friends. In “Stones,” it’s 1940, and the nearly 8-year-old Joseph is the only Jewish boy in his upstate New York school. He’s perpetually late to class because of sleep problems. His teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, keeps the whole class after school due to Joseph’s tardiness, which incites the students to torment him; she’s pleased when her “loyal student attack dogs” stone the boy. In Joseph’s imagination, Mrs. Cunningham is Adolf Hitler, and he equates her punishment of the class to the Nazis’ punishing an entire village because of one resistance fighter. As nations declare war on each other, Joseph’s schoolmates do the same to him, the lone Jew. In the second story, “Drowning,” Joseph is 10 years old. A rabbi and his two sons, Danny and Shlomo, rent space at his family’s farm, termed “the Yid Farm” by local non-Jews. On the hottest day of summer, Joseph, Danny and Shlomo walk to the lake only to find it is closed because of wartime activities. The locked gate provides yet another reminder to Joseph that he is unwelcome wherever he goes. The boys break in, however, and meet up with a fourth boy, Raymond, a gentile. Tragedy strikes when Raymond convinces Joseph and Danny to take a leaky rowboat out on the water. When Raymond’s father, a police officer, gets involved, it spins the story into a metaphor for Jewish disadvantages during the Nazi regime. Afterward, Joseph turns to a devout Christian, Gaptooth Thomas, the family’s handyman, for solace; he’s Joseph’s spiritual teacher, always ready with a parable. Both adults and young readers will likely appreciate these stories, although they may appeal most to those who lived through the war and found air-raid drills and war-bond drives replacing playground romps.
Two engaging metaphorical stories, shot through with history and suspense.