Lowenstein-Malz, in this middle-grade novel, tells the story of an Israeli girl discovering the history of her grandmother’s family.
Growing up in modern Israel, it never occurred to 12-year-old Nessya that her relatives had survived the Holocaust; it wasn’t something that was ever discussed. When she hears a rumor from a friend that her own grandmother, Miri Eneman Malz, is a survivor of that era, Nessya first attempts to covertly investigate her grandparent’s apartment, searching for letters or documents that might explain her past. When her unsubtle plan is discovered, Miri avoids Nessya for two whole weeks. But when Miri finally comes to visit, she brings the very documents that Nessya sought. The letters and diary entries detail Miri and her family’s many harrowing escapes as they fled Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust. As Nessya reads over the documents, she learns about the heartbreaking fate of Miri’s Jewish neighbors, who couldn’t foresee the coming doom; about the kindness of a few helpful gentiles; and about her grandmother’s parents and sisters, whose courage and ingenuity delivered them from genocide. The experience gives Nessya new insight into her own history and a glimpse into the pain and fortitude of her indefatigable grandma. Deftly translated from the Hebrew by Frankel and accompanied by lovely portrait illustrations by McGaw, Lowenstein-Malz’s prose is simple and elegant, bearing readers smoothly through the story’s multiple narrative layers. Befitting the book’s young audience, the author doesn’t concentrate on the subject matter’s more gruesome aspects, although she doesn’t whitewash the crimes and degradations, either; instead, she focuses on the luck and triumphs of the Eneman family and their cloak-and-dagger journey out of occupied Europe. She imbues her characters with great humanity, and many sections are heart-rending; one, in which a butcher named Yankel receives a postcard from his brother in the Bergen-Belsen camp, may bring tears to readers’ eyes. Such tragedy aside, the novel is an immersive page-turner, and readers of any age will find themselves flipping forward to see how the story ends.
An exciting, distressing, and ultimately inspiring novel of hardship and family.