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Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar and unhappy young boy whose family is driven by the German onslaught from the Polish countryside into Warsaw and slowly battered by deprivation, disease, and persecution. He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle and trade contraband through the quarantine walls in hopes of k Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar and unhappy young boy whose family is driven by the German onslaught from the Polish countryside into Warsaw and slowly battered by deprivation, disease, and persecution. He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle and trade contraband through the quarantine walls in hopes of keeping their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters alive, hunted all the while by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police, not to mention the Gestapo. When his family is finally stripped away from him, Aron is rescued by Janusz Korczak, a doctor renowned throughout prewar Europe as an advocate of children’s rights who, once the Nazis swept in, was put in charge of the Warsaw orphanage. Treblinka awaits them all, but does Aron manage to escape — as his mentor suspected he could — to spread word about the atrocities?  Jim Shepard has masterfully made this child's-eye view of the darkest history mesmerizing, sometimes comic despite all odds, truly heartbreaking, and even inspiring. Anyone who hears Aron's voice will remember it forever.


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Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar and unhappy young boy whose family is driven by the German onslaught from the Polish countryside into Warsaw and slowly battered by deprivation, disease, and persecution. He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle and trade contraband through the quarantine walls in hopes of k Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar and unhappy young boy whose family is driven by the German onslaught from the Polish countryside into Warsaw and slowly battered by deprivation, disease, and persecution. He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle and trade contraband through the quarantine walls in hopes of keeping their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters alive, hunted all the while by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police, not to mention the Gestapo. When his family is finally stripped away from him, Aron is rescued by Janusz Korczak, a doctor renowned throughout prewar Europe as an advocate of children’s rights who, once the Nazis swept in, was put in charge of the Warsaw orphanage. Treblinka awaits them all, but does Aron manage to escape — as his mentor suspected he could — to spread word about the atrocities?  Jim Shepard has masterfully made this child's-eye view of the darkest history mesmerizing, sometimes comic despite all odds, truly heartbreaking, and even inspiring. Anyone who hears Aron's voice will remember it forever.

30 review for The Book of Aron

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    In the summer of 1942, German soldiers expelled almost 200 starving children from an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto and packed them into rail cars bound for Treblinka. As with so many entries in the encyclopedia of Nazi atrocities, the depravity of that act and our inability to fathom such cruelty threaten to eclipse the individuality of the victims. Historians push back against the obliteration of chaos, time and shame, but talented novelists have also offered their creative gifts in this sacred In the summer of 1942, German soldiers expelled almost 200 starving children from an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto and packed them into rail cars bound for Treblinka. As with so many entries in the encyclopedia of Nazi atrocities, the depravity of that act and our inability to fathom such cruelty threaten to eclipse the individuality of the victims. Historians push back against the obliteration of chaos, time and shame, but talented novelists have also offered their creative gifts in this sacred process of remembrance. And now, Jim Shepard, one of America’s finest writers, brings the Warsaw orphanage to life in “The Book of Aron.” Drawing on his imagination and dozens of historical sources, the author has produced a remarkable novel destined to join the shelf of essential Holocaust literature. Although relentless in its portrayal of systematic evil, “The Book of Aron” is, nonetheless, a story of such startling candor about the complexity of heroism that it challenges each of us to greater courage. The narrator is . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/enterta...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Aron was a young boy living with his mom and dad in a nice house in the Warsaw countryside. When Hitler invades Poland all Jews are gathered up and relocated to what will become known as the Warsaw ghetto. I, think this is the first book I have read that takes place only in the ghetto. The people starving, a street smart Aaron and a group of young boys find ways to get out of the ghetto to bring back much needed items. The ghetto gets smaller and smaller as many come down with typhus and whole s Aron was a young boy living with his mom and dad in a nice house in the Warsaw countryside. When Hitler invades Poland all Jews are gathered up and relocated to what will become known as the Warsaw ghetto. I, think this is the first book I have read that takes place only in the ghetto. The people starving, a street smart Aaron and a group of young boys find ways to get out of the ghetto to bring back much needed items. The ghetto gets smaller and smaller as many come down with typhus and whole streets are closed off. The random raids by the Nazis, men taken for work crews, promises of food, and never seen again. Eventually the deportations start and Aron who has lost both parents comes under the care of Janusz Korczak, a man running an orphanage trying to save as many of the children as he can. Janusz Korczak is a real person and what a man He was. I looked him up on wiki and if you read this you, should to. A difficult book to read at times but a book that shows the relationships and hardships of the Jews living in this time and place. I was very impressed with the writing and the story. ARC from publisher.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I can understand Shepard's decision to write about the Holocaust in an understated way - with the facts speaking for themselves. That is what he has done in this novel, portraying a young boy and his daily activities during Nazi occupation in Warsaw. Sometimes this technique works and the horror breaks through. But overall, Aron's numbness and his lack of an interior life is frustrating. The novel feels flat and unfinished. I can understand Shepard's decision to write about the Holocaust in an understated way - with the facts speaking for themselves. That is what he has done in this novel, portraying a young boy and his daily activities during Nazi occupation in Warsaw. Sometimes this technique works and the horror breaks through. But overall, Aron's numbness and his lack of an interior life is frustrating. The novel feels flat and unfinished.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I’d read such rave reviews of this novel set in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War, and I’ve always meant to try something by Jim Shepard, so this seemed an ideal place to start. I got to page 53, about 19% of the way through, and decided to stop because although this is a fairly believable child’s voice, it is only being used to convey information. To me the spark of personality and the pull of storytelling are lacking. I felt like I was reading a history book about the Holocaust, su I’d read such rave reviews of this novel set in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War, and I’ve always meant to try something by Jim Shepard, so this seemed an ideal place to start. I got to page 53, about 19% of the way through, and decided to stop because although this is a fairly believable child’s voice, it is only being used to convey information. To me the spark of personality and the pull of storytelling are lacking. I felt like I was reading a history book about the Holocaust, subtly tweaked (i.e. dumbed down and flattened) to sound like it could be a child’s observations.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    When my niece was just a few years old, her family dog died in his sleep as a result of advanced old age. When my sister tried to explain that the dog was gone, my niece looked at her, baffled, and said, “But where’s the blood?” It was inconceivable to her that something as monumental as death could be so seemingly ordinary. I’m starting my review this way because I have read many reviews that criticize The Book of Aron for the reportorial and too often flat voice of the narrator. But for me, tha When my niece was just a few years old, her family dog died in his sleep as a result of advanced old age. When my sister tried to explain that the dog was gone, my niece looked at her, baffled, and said, “But where’s the blood?” It was inconceivable to her that something as monumental as death could be so seemingly ordinary. I’m starting my review this way because I have read many reviews that criticize The Book of Aron for the reportorial and too often flat voice of the narrator. But for me, that is precisely what gives the book its power. Aron, whom we meet when he is barely nine years old, is a natural-born troublemaker (The very first line reads: My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done…”) In his young lifetime, he has been witness to horrendous things: Jews being uprooted from their homes and forced to endure more and more intolerable circumstances – living in the ghetto, not being able to attend schools or ride trolleys, living with the ever-present lice and typhus, humiliated and beaten up by Nazi officers, and dealing with gnawing hunger and lack of food. This isn’t REAL living; real living requires us to experience all our emotions. Denying our feelings is part of our ability to survive (think of a soldier in battle) and developing an impenetrable armor is the only way to get by. And that’s precisely what Aron does. His voice is the voice of a survivor, someone who is determined to forge on. Aron’s understated “here’s what happened” narration belies the unspeakable horrors that are going on around him. I found my heart beating a little faster and my brain reeling a little more with each successive page. Eventually, as we learn right from the book jacket, Aron ends up in the care of a real-life hero, Dr. Janusz Korczak, who ran a well-known orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto. While Aron’s life – centering around pillaging, stealing, and betrayal if necessary – has been all about himself (and sometimes, his family), Dr. Korczak’s life has been about sublimating his own needs (“I exist not to be loved but to act.”) And herein lies the theme of The Book of Aron. When forced to endure the most unimaginable situations, we can react in two ways: go inward and do whatever it takes to save ourselves or go outward and save others and our very concept of humanity. How will Aron make a difference after witnessing Dr. Korczak in action? Jim Shepard provides hints of what might occur after the last page of his book, but we can only surmise. 4.5 strong stars.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Maciek

    The Book of Aron is narrated in the first person by Aron Różycki, a poor Jewish boy from Panevezys, a town in (then) northern Poland, near the Lithuanian border. After his father finds work at a factory in Warsaw, Aron and his family move to the capital with hope of improving their life, which is extremely short-lived: the Germans invade and quickly win their short war with Poland, and soon all of Warsaw's Jews end up being stripped of their possessions and forced to move to a specifically devel The Book of Aron is narrated in the first person by Aron Różycki, a poor Jewish boy from Panevezys, a town in (then) northern Poland, near the Lithuanian border. After his father finds work at a factory in Warsaw, Aron and his family move to the capital with hope of improving their life, which is extremely short-lived: the Germans invade and quickly win their short war with Poland, and soon all of Warsaw's Jews end up being stripped of their possessions and forced to move to a specifically developed ghetto. Disease, squalor and extreme poverty are commonplace, and even little children have to struggle to survive. This is Jim Shepard's first novel in more than ten years, and my introduction to his work. This particular subject is an interesting choice for an author to take - I can't help but find "Holocaust fiction" always a little trivializing of its theme - I find it genuinely difficult to imagine a fictional story, written in contemporary times by someone who is not a Holocaust survivor, that would tell us anything new about the Holocaust. Many memoirs have been written by actual Holocaust survivors, some of whom have also chosen to frame their own experiences in fictional narratives (most famous case belongs to Elie Wiesel and his best known book, Night). Of course I do not mean to imply that authors who write Holocaust fiction in contemporary times mean to trivialize the Holocaust on purpose - far from it; I believe that they are as respectful to their subject as they could be. Still, at the same time, I can't help but think that at large their work does not add anything of value to our understanding of the Holocaust. How could it, if it itself has to be based on research provided by those who actually survived it and wrote about it in the first place? The Book of Aron is, unfortunately, no exception. As I was reading it, I could not help but think of research that the author has put into it - the Acknowledgments section lists an impressive number of source texts - and how it translates into Aron's own voice. I never heard the voice of a young boy; all I saw was the author, carefully crafting his sentences meant to describe the grim existence of daily life in the Jewish Ghetto from a child's perspective. And even this approach - having a child narrate the horror of war and the Holocaust in a cold, distant, dispassionate voice - is not new; think of Jerzy Kosiński and his famous The Painted Bird, which does it so much better. However, Kosiński was a Polish Jew and an actual survivor of the Holocaust, who later conveyed his experiences (or his vision of them) into a novel; Jim Shepard is an American from Bridgeport, Connecticut, who has to rely on secondhand sources for inspiration. This is not mean to condemn Mr. Shepard and his effort - however, I think it illustrates very well the problem with Holocaust fiction written by contemporary authors. It's fiction, and we all know that it is and while reading it can't shake of that feeling. However, there is something for which I have to praise the book. An important figure in The Book of Aron is Janusz Korczak - an actual historical figure, about whom many readers of the novel will probably hear for the first time in their lives. Korczak was a Polish Jew, known for his devotion to children, orphans in particular. Korczak ran an orphanage in Warsaw, where he pioneered the method of democratic education - he believed in the emancipation of children, and organized his orphanages as little republics with a working parliament and court, where children had equal rights and specific duties. His orphanage published its own children's newspaper, and he himself wrote several fictional works which later became classics of Polish Literature for children - most notably Król Maciuś Pierwszy (King Matt the First) - the story of a young boy who has to rule the kingdom after the passing of his father. The young king seeks to enacts reforms that Korczak sought to implement in his own orphanages, and the entire work is a thinly veiled allegory for the Polish state and the historical and political situation at the time. Korczak also had his own radio show for children, where he talked about the world and its affairs from the perspective of a child - paying special attention and being especially sensitive to a child's needs and interests, it's fears and worries. The last of Korczak's broadcast was aired in September 1939 - he talked to his children in a last attempt to calm them, and prepare them for what was about to come. In 1942, during Grossaktion Warschau and the liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto, Korczak did not abandon his orphans, and walked with them for a long time to the train which would take them to Treblinka. Although testimonies of those who saw him then vary, I like the one of Władysław Szpilman's best: the pianist remembered Korczak walking along with children singing songs, carrying two of the youngest children by himself and telling them to not worry, that they are going for a trip to the countryside. While I do not believe that The Book of Aron works or even could work as a vehicle to provide us with new insights regarding the Holocaust, I think it works as an introduction - or maybe even a homage - to Janusz Korczak, the man who loved children and in the end chose to give up his life for them when he could not do anything else.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This is an incredibly moving novel , written from the perspective of a young boy, named Aron Rozycki. Aron begins his early childhood living in Panevzys, near the Lithuanian border. When his father is offered a job in a factory, the family move to Warsaw to try to escape the poverty that is grinding the family down. However, when the Germans invade Poland, Aron finds that his life, and that of his family, becomes harder and more restricted. The area they live in becomes part of the Warsaw Ghetto This is an incredibly moving novel , written from the perspective of a young boy, named Aron Rozycki. Aron begins his early childhood living in Panevzys, near the Lithuanian border. When his father is offered a job in a factory, the family move to Warsaw to try to escape the poverty that is grinding the family down. However, when the Germans invade Poland, Aron finds that his life, and that of his family, becomes harder and more restricted. The area they live in becomes part of the Warsaw Ghetto and walls are thrown up, seemingly overnight, to keep in an endless stream of people. Among those that are forced to live inside the walls of the Ghetto are Janusc Korczak (the pen name of a Jewish author and paediatrician named Henryk Goldszmit) and better known as Pan Doktor (‘Mr Doctor’). Aron watches as Korczak leads the children from his orphanage into the Ghetto and attempts to care for the unwanted, the young separated from their families and the orphaned children that have nobody else, in a world that has turned hostile against even the most innocent in society. The author writes realistically of the Warsaw Ghetto from the situation of a child. Aron, and his friends, do their best to survive in the world they know. They scrounge, they smuggle, they barter and they cope with their new reality. Aron comes to the notice of Lejkin, a member of the Order Service, an internal police force, who wants him to give him information about what goes on in the Ghetto. Meanwhile, typhus stalks the streets and people are simply killed by disease, or swept up in raids and sent away by the Germans. Aron’s family struggle with their situation, but they add depth to the storyline and their relationships are written realistically and with real warmth. Janusc Korczak was a real man – a heroic doctor who was respected by his community and a man who refused to leave his children to their fate. This novel is about a young boy, but his life intersects with that of Korczak and allows the author to tell both their stories. This is movingly told, without being overly sentimental, and shows what real heroism really is. This would be a fantastic choice for a reading group, as well as being an excellent personal read. Lastly, I was given a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    4 Stars - Fantastic books Some spoilers ahead, some hidden and some not, proceed at your own discretion. This is one of the best fictional Holocaust books I’ve ever read, as bleak as that sounds. Jim Shepard writes a story that’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. There are so many books about the Holocaust that it can be hard to stand out but Jim Shepard managed to do just that. He’s written a devastatingly unique story that kept me engaged until the very end. Shepard tells the story of Aron 4 Stars - Fantastic books Some spoilers ahead, some hidden and some not, proceed at your own discretion. This is one of the best fictional Holocaust books I’ve ever read, as bleak as that sounds. Jim Shepard writes a story that’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. There are so many books about the Holocaust that it can be hard to stand out but Jim Shepard managed to do just that. He’s written a devastatingly unique story that kept me engaged until the very end. Shepard tells the story of Aron a young Jewish boy who moves from a village to Warsaw with his family and subsequently how he progresses through World Ward II in the Warsaw Ghetto. This is what kept me engaged, the fact that the story took place in the ghetto. All the Holocaust stories I’ve read spend little to no substantial time in the ghettos. By the time I finished I felt like I had a better understanding of Jewish ghettos, and how they worked, and the horrors the people faced. Another aspect of the story I appreciated was that it’s told in the first person by a child. Shepard managed to have an adolescent main character and refrained from any childishness or watering down of the events. I particularly like that (view spoiler)[when Aron is in the orphanage, or even beforehand, when something terrible happens that he still cries even when the other kids make snarky comments or laugh at him. Crying at the stuff he went through makes sense especially for a kid. I’m just glad that Shepard included that little detail. (hide spoiler)] The brutal reality of the ghettos are portrayed exquisitely here. The portrayal made me stop and think about what I had previously imaged the ghettos to be. I knew they were awful, horrible places but Shepard’s description amplifies those well known facts. The thing that got me was the lice. I mean it makes sense but I never really thought about it before. Lice was everywhere and his descriptions of the lice on the kids are fantastic. Take for instance: "His head was so full of lice it was like he had gray hair." p.241 That’s such a simple yet evocative sentence. The author kept a lot of things real. most of the characters are both sympathetic and unlikable. The ending is real and believable. (view spoiler)[I’m glad he didn’t take the easy way out and somehow save the kids and Korczak. He gave them the ending that was realistic even though it’s not the one they deserved. (hide spoiler)] The writing is unsophisticated that sounds horrible and probably isn’t the right word. It’s simple and easy to understand but the author’s very careful with his word choice and sentence construction. Truly phenomenal. Do I recommend this one? Absolutely. It’s a great read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Armstrong

    I will have to wipe the tears from my eyes to write a review. This book was extraordinary. Powerful. A masterpiece. I predict it will become a classic of Holocaust literature. As a children's bookseller, I read this with the idea that it might work in school curriculum/ WWII/ Holocaust studies, since the narrator is a child. Will it? The answer is yes, and largely for the reasons that it's so powerful. The writing is extremely simple, very direct, from the point of a view of a kid with little or I will have to wipe the tears from my eyes to write a review. This book was extraordinary. Powerful. A masterpiece. I predict it will become a classic of Holocaust literature. As a children's bookseller, I read this with the idea that it might work in school curriculum/ WWII/ Holocaust studies, since the narrator is a child. Will it? The answer is yes, and largely for the reasons that it's so powerful. The writing is extremely simple, very direct, from the point of a view of a kid with little or no imagination and not much in the way of education. The result is a story with no introspection, no prediction, no projection, just: this happened, and then this happened. The immediacy of the story therefore is complete, and the observation and detail are breath-taking. The talent required to pull this off cannot be overstated - we have all read many Holocaust stories, and we know how this one will end, but the author keeps the reader firmly in the moment at every step of the way. I really look forward to sharing this one.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dianah

    For a Holocaust book, I found this unbelievably emotionless. The prose was almost as if a newspaper reporter had written it; just the facts. I'm not sure if that was Shepard's intent, but it makes for a very sterile, removed read about a subject that is normally beyond heartbreaking. For a Holocaust book, I found this unbelievably emotionless. The prose was almost as if a newspaper reporter had written it; just the facts. I'm not sure if that was Shepard's intent, but it makes for a very sterile, removed read about a subject that is normally beyond heartbreaking.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Natasa

    Insightful and well written. The reader gets carried along with Aron's story. Insightful and well written. The reader gets carried along with Aron's story.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Cosin

    The Book of Aron is an historic novel, one of the main characters of which is Janusz Korczak, a doctor and childrens’ advocate who ran the best known orphanage in Warsaw in the early 1940’s. The narrator is 10-year-old Aron, who provides a chronology of his life in the ghetto before and during the Nazi occupation. Aron describes his day-to-day life: what happened and what people said in the train of thought and speech pattern of a child. The author combines long compound sentences with short sen The Book of Aron is an historic novel, one of the main characters of which is Janusz Korczak, a doctor and childrens’ advocate who ran the best known orphanage in Warsaw in the early 1940’s. The narrator is 10-year-old Aron, who provides a chronology of his life in the ghetto before and during the Nazi occupation. Aron describes his day-to-day life: what happened and what people said in the train of thought and speech pattern of a child. The author combines long compound sentences with short sentences, creating a slow rhythm and simple speech. Aron’s narrative is on actions, not his feelings although the pain and suffering of all of the characters is clear. There was something about the style and language that kept me from feeling very involved with the book, even given the horrific events. The end, of course, is very moving. Korczak is an interesting figure and the relationship between Korczak and Aron is intriguing. I would recommend the book to people who are interested in a Holocaust novel in a different setting and from a child’s point of view. Additional information: The acknowledgements cite the extensive research that went into the book. In addition, the 1990 movie, Korczak (available on Netflix, not a documentary) tells similar stories and provides more background. Not a great movie, but it added an interesting layer to reading the book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Merritt

    great book if you want to STAY UP ALL NIGHT BAWLING YOUR FUCKING EYEBALLS OUT

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cold War Conversations Podcast

    Powerful child’s-eye view of the hell that was the Warsaw Ghetto. Jim Shepard has produced an oddly dispassionate child's-eye view of the Warsaw Ghetto. I say oddly because the most shocking incidents are described in such a matter of fact way which both underlines the innocence of children, but also the normalcy that violence became in those times. This short book packs a massive punch as Aron describes his descent into the hell of being Jewish under Nazi rule in Poland. Not one for the faint hea Powerful child’s-eye view of the hell that was the Warsaw Ghetto. Jim Shepard has produced an oddly dispassionate child's-eye view of the Warsaw Ghetto. I say oddly because the most shocking incidents are described in such a matter of fact way which both underlines the innocence of children, but also the normalcy that violence became in those times. This short book packs a massive punch as Aron describes his descent into the hell of being Jewish under Nazi rule in Poland. Not one for the faint hearted, but a worthy addition to the many books detailing this dark period of history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    This is the simply written story of a young Polish boy named Aron living in poverty in Warsaw at the beginning of WWII. It is written from the child's vantage point. He does poorly in school, has multiple siblings including a sickly younger brother and his parents both work - his mother scrubbing floors and taking in laundry and his father in a factory. Descriptions of the oppression and violence against Poland's Jewish citizens gradually builds. They are restricted from areas, they are all move This is the simply written story of a young Polish boy named Aron living in poverty in Warsaw at the beginning of WWII. It is written from the child's vantage point. He does poorly in school, has multiple siblings including a sickly younger brother and his parents both work - his mother scrubbing floors and taking in laundry and his father in a factory. Descriptions of the oppression and violence against Poland's Jewish citizens gradually builds. They are restricted from areas, they are all moved to one location, their neighborhood is bricked in, their possessions are taken away, etc. Aron's family's poverty adds to their misery - hunger and illness increases. Aron becomes a child of the streets attempting to barter and steal for the family's food. He doesn't always understand what he is seeing when encountering violence firsthand. He doesn't do what is kind or right - he only considers his own basic needs. And, the trauma afterwards feels real. It is very different to read an account like this, even fictional, when told by a young boy. Everything is elemental to a child - hunger, shame & love of family. While the novel is historical fiction, it is also based on the true story of Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto. It is ultimately this relationship, the relationship between Aron and Janusz Korczak, that holds the book's power. It is not sugar-coated. Korczak is depicted as a vodka guzzling, cynical old man. But, Korczak's essential goodness somehow shines through. Aron observes and ultimately changes because of his influence. The ending is absolutely perfect. No quotes or hints from me. Recommended for those who read books about the Holocaust - new perspective and heartwrenching story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    For some reason I keep returning to World War II in my reading life. I want to know the why of it, how it could have happened. Hitler’s Germany seems almost too horrible to be true. I suppose my World War II addiction is a way of avoiding the nightly news and the daily fresh news it brings with the slight comfort of knowing that World War II happened so long ago. When I read about Shepard’s new book I determined I wouldn’t spend the time to read it yet in the end I did. I’m glad I did. It’s the f For some reason I keep returning to World War II in my reading life. I want to know the why of it, how it could have happened. Hitler’s Germany seems almost too horrible to be true. I suppose my World War II addiction is a way of avoiding the nightly news and the daily fresh news it brings with the slight comfort of knowing that World War II happened so long ago. When I read about Shepard’s new book I determined I wouldn’t spend the time to read it yet in the end I did. I’m glad I did. It’s the fictional account of some real life people. Janusz Korczak was a Jewish doctor living in Warsaw Poland when the German’s marched in and forced all the Jews into a policed ghetto. Aron was one of the orphaned children Korczak rescued. I know this sounds grim and of course it is however a large part of the book, which is told from Aron’s point of view, focuses on how he and his resourceful friends became smugglers in an effort to feed their families. There’s lots of wry humor that accompanies horror but this is what their lives have become as things daily become more desperate in a way that’s not immediately apparent. Less food, families and strangers forced into overcrowded apartments, disease, lice, people disappearing never to be heard from again, etc. Yet Korczak keeps begging his fellow captives for money and food in order to keep his orphanage afloat and they give it. To help with this he organizes and puts on plays starring the children as a means to lighten people’s lives and let them know his kids still need help. Shepard writes with a touch of humor which actually makes their nightmare situation more real. It doesn’t matter how many accounts of World War II you’ve read. You’ll still want to read “The Book of Aron”. Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alison Miller-astor

    I need to differ from the critics on this one... hailed as a "masterpiece" that "will join the short list of classics about children caught up in the Holocaust", "a Holocaust novel that stands with the most powerful writing on that subject", it just never really hit home for me. Described as "Heartbreaking, shattering, charming, and brilliant", it never resonated with me on any deep emotional level. Sad, yes. Interesting, so-so. Maybe I've read too many Holocaust novels, but this one just failed I need to differ from the critics on this one... hailed as a "masterpiece" that "will join the short list of classics about children caught up in the Holocaust", "a Holocaust novel that stands with the most powerful writing on that subject", it just never really hit home for me. Described as "Heartbreaking, shattering, charming, and brilliant", it never resonated with me on any deep emotional level. Sad, yes. Interesting, so-so. Maybe I've read too many Holocaust novels, but this one just failed to hit that note, and seemed too "surface-y" to me. There are so many more powerful novels out there about the Holocaust; for me, this one just didn't make it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dwayne

    Told from the perspective of an eight year old, The Book of Aron is about the Nazi invasion of Poland. There’s no richness of writing, no lyricism, no deep introspection; our narrator is a child, so naturally, the writing reflects that. Which is one reason this book did not connect with me as much as I wanted. Another reason is its structure. A lot of what happens historically during that time is really just backdrop here, with Aron’s exploits with his friends (and experiences with his family) be Told from the perspective of an eight year old, The Book of Aron is about the Nazi invasion of Poland. There’s no richness of writing, no lyricism, no deep introspection; our narrator is a child, so naturally, the writing reflects that. Which is one reason this book did not connect with me as much as I wanted. Another reason is its structure. A lot of what happens historically during that time is really just backdrop here, with Aron’s exploits with his friends (and experiences with his family) being front and center. And told in a series of vignettes didn’t help matters either. I found myself counting pages to see how much more I’d have to read. The book is obviously extensively researched, and the writing is by no means bad either, it just didn’t resonate with me. As such, my rating is somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mainon

    I feel terrible saying this, but I actually think this was pretty forgettable. I've read quite a lot of Holocaust fiction, and I didn't think this was a particularly stellar example of it. The hard thing about Holocaust fiction is that once you have read a certain amount of it, it's hard to find a new perspective, something that does more than simply remind us that the Holocaust was awful. All the Light We Cannot See did that, as did Sarah's Key. The Book Thief and The Nightingale seem to stand I feel terrible saying this, but I actually think this was pretty forgettable. I've read quite a lot of Holocaust fiction, and I didn't think this was a particularly stellar example of it. The hard thing about Holocaust fiction is that once you have read a certain amount of it, it's hard to find a new perspective, something that does more than simply remind us that the Holocaust was awful. All the Light We Cannot See did that, as did Sarah's Key. The Book Thief and The Nightingale seem to stand out as well for many people. Time will tell, but for me I think this failed in that attempt. Part of the problem is that I didn't care much about the main character. Even at the end, I didn't have a clear picture of who he was or what really motivated him. He didn't seem to care much about his friends or his family, but became desperately attached to someone later, which didn't ring quite true for me. For part of the book, I actually wondered if he was a bit mentally challenged and didn't understand what was happening, but nothing happened that was sufficient to confirm or to contradict that hypothesis. Anyway, it is hard to admit (even to myself) that I read a book about orphans and ghettos and families struggling to survive and shocking deaths and unimaginable choices, yet somehow remained largely unmoved; I think it's a reminder how important it is for authors to write characters that we care about. Also, I hated the ending so much I gave this 2 stars at first. What a weird place to end it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    I started off this book, and continued at least 100 pages into it, wondering about the flatness of the narrative voice. The story is delivered in a detached matter-of-fact fashion, telling of the formation and the increasing repression and suffering of the Warsaw ghetto, and I kept thinking, at some point a story this wrenching is finally going to break open and tear my heart out. (view spoiler)[And then, it did. On the very last page, with the final paragraph of the story: He put his hands behin I started off this book, and continued at least 100 pages into it, wondering about the flatness of the narrative voice. The story is delivered in a detached matter-of-fact fashion, telling of the formation and the increasing repression and suffering of the Warsaw ghetto, and I kept thinking, at some point a story this wrenching is finally going to break open and tear my heart out. (view spoiler)[And then, it did. On the very last page, with the final paragraph of the story: He put his hands behind my head and lowered his forehead to mine. I was blubbering and got his face wet but he only drew closer. "'The child has the right to respect,"' he said. "'The child has the right to develop. The child has the right to be. The child has the right to grieve. The child has the right to learn. And the child has the right to make mistakes.'" As the narrator finally cracked, after everything he had seen and done and been forced to as a child, I did as well. And I want to know, with all my heart, whether Aron lived. (hide spoiler)] The story will stay with me for some time. The story of Warsaw is inspiring, but not in the uplifting and heroic style. It's more about how people survive, and what they will do to live in the face of a regime that not only wants them dead, but wants them to suffer while they die. What they will do is often not pretty. And there are scars left that will never heal.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done, and my uncle told everyone they should have called me What Were You Thinking. I broke medicine bottles by crashing them together and let the neighbors' animals loose from pens. My mother said my father shouldn't beat such a small boy, but my father said that one misfortune was never enough for me, and my uncle told her that my kind of craziness was like stealing from the rest of the family. Wh My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done, and my uncle told everyone they should have called me What Were You Thinking. I broke medicine bottles by crashing them together and let the neighbors' animals loose from pens. My mother said my father shouldn't beat such a small boy, but my father said that one misfortune was never enough for me, and my uncle told her that my kind of craziness was like stealing from the rest of the family. When we first meet Aron in The Book of Aron, his family is living in the countryside in 1930s Poland. He's a mischiefmaker, hopeless student, and forever on the verge of tears. When his father receives news that there's factory work to be had in Warsaw, they all move to the city, giving this Jewish family a ringside seat when the Germans invade. Through Aron's naive and accepting observations, the reader watches as all of Warsaw's Jews are corralled into the new Ghetto, have their rights stripped away, suffer starvation and disease, and ultimately, are marched to the train depot for deportation to the Treblinka death camp. The human mind boggles at huge numbers like those lost in the Holocaust, but author Jim Shepard creates intimacy by focussing on one boy's wartime experience, and especially, by writing in Aron's own voice. The combination of clipped and run-on sentences sounds authentic to anyone who has read (and winced over) their kids' essays, and this had conflicting effects on me: I noted the art in writing authentically in the voice of an underschooled child, but without any exposition or introspection, it was all plot, plot, plot without emotion (except for Aron's uncontrollable crying that is often noted by other characters). There is genius in this device but it is a bit like reading a book-length essay by a middle-schooler. However, there were some nice (if infrequent) metaphorical touches, as in this passage, after another of Aron's family dies: On my walk home the streets were very bad and icy. I slipped and fell more than once. It was after curfew but there was no moon and no one wanted to be out in the cold so no one saw me. I walked like I was part of my own funeral procession. At home I let myself in and stopped, as if there was nothing for me to do and nowhere for me to go in the face of the pictures in my head. It is apparent that Shepard put much research into the Warsaw Ghetto, and as Aron and his gang of friends steal and smuggle and do whatever it takes to survive and support their families, the details of time and place are subtle yet immersive. The food and clothes and stench and despair are so well drawn that when Lejkin – the collaborating Jewish policeman – is flexing his new boots to break them in, I remembered every poor child who was barefoot in the snow or who had shoes held together with twine or who had thought themselves lucky to steal another child's slippery wooden clogs. There was something archival about The Book of Aron, too, as though Shepard wanted to preserve Jewish oral traditions. Aron's mother would quiz him on Yiddish words (Did I know what beshart meant?), characters were often sharing expressions from their parents and grandparents (He said his mother used to say when it was sunny and he was particularly gloomy that not even a Jew could suffer on a day like today) and there were also many jokes told between characters (They say when Napoleon invaded Russia he wore a red jacket to hide his blood. When Hitler invaded, he wore brown pants.) Ultimately, though, it would seem that Shepard's primary intent was to preserve the story of the remarkable Pan Doktor Janusz Korczak. Long before WWII, Korczak was a famous physician and essayist who promoted the rights of children. He eventually focussed his energies on running a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw, and when the Ghetto was created, he was forced to relocate the children to within its walls. In The Book of Aron, Aron is aware of the doctor throughout his time in the Ghetto, and eventually, Aron finds himself in Korczak's care. Through Aron's eyes, Korczak is presented as a selfless and honourable man; definitely someone whose legacy demands preservation. As Korczak says of the Ghetto: This is a prison. A plague ship. An asylum. A casino. A sprung trap. Bodies you clear from the street in the morning have piled up again by the evening. I have seen the debate about Holocaust fiction (that it should be avoided as sensationalist and exploitative; dismissed as horror tourism) and perhaps that is why Shepard placed his story in the eyes and mouth of a child – the matter-of-fact tone and lack of contemplation and conclusions doesn't read as fiction, and it feels like an essential tool for remembering details that might otherwise be at risk of being forgotten.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ruthiella

    This is another 2016 TOB shortlisted book. I wasn’t super impressed at the beginning, but it really got me by the end of it. The Book of Aron is historical fiction about the Warsaw Ghetto and obliquely (the book takes many, many pages to get there) about a real life figure, Dr. Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage within the Ghetto until he and his charges were shipped off to Treblinka and presumably gassed. The story is told form the perspective of Aron, a young Jewish boy whose family first mo This is another 2016 TOB shortlisted book. I wasn’t super impressed at the beginning, but it really got me by the end of it. The Book of Aron is historical fiction about the Warsaw Ghetto and obliquely (the book takes many, many pages to get there) about a real life figure, Dr. Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage within the Ghetto until he and his charges were shipped off to Treblinka and presumably gassed. The story is told form the perspective of Aron, a young Jewish boy whose family first move to Warsaw from the countryside for a better life. After Poland is occupied by the Nazis, Aron becomes a street kid/thief/smuggler in order to get by and help his family survive as the inhabitants of the Ghetto are gradually deprived of rights, food, hygiene, and eventually their lives. Possibly because of the child narration, the story seems overly simplified and sketchy at times. But as I wrote earlier, by the last pages, I was blinking back the tears.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    I'm going to crawl into bed and remain in a fetal position for a day or two. When I can get up and function normally again I'll try to write a review. I'm going to crawl into bed and remain in a fetal position for a day or two. When I can get up and function normally again I'll try to write a review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bon Tom

    I don't know how some authors do it. I had to check online resources several times to confirm this is indeed fiction, not biographical account. You know, like when you're distracted with something else so you neurotically go back to check if you forgot to turn off the gas. So I was constantly "distracted" with detail after organic detail, that lived so naturally inside this fictional story. The distraction, paradoxically, consisted of me becoming completely immersed in something other then outsi I don't know how some authors do it. I had to check online resources several times to confirm this is indeed fiction, not biographical account. You know, like when you're distracted with something else so you neurotically go back to check if you forgot to turn off the gas. So I was constantly "distracted" with detail after organic detail, that lived so naturally inside this fictional story. The distraction, paradoxically, consisted of me becoming completely immersed in something other then outside world, which is not how I normally operate. So every once in a while, I was like being awaken from a dream, wondering where and who I was. But inbetween, I was pulled in so thoroughly that I kept forgetting that real, or my personal world existed. I became this book, that Mandolin boy that kept his arms around his instrument even while being treated for lice, and all to his moment of death. That alone, is a pinnacle of sadness if I ever saw one. But what's even more sad, is that this piece of fiction (if that's what it is) can freely be considered only a placeholder for thousands of similar, sad fates that happened to real people during the darkest era of humanity. Along with dozens of other, similarly heart breaking details, that I can't imagine being anything else except some kind of collages from real people and their stories, this book will remain vivid in my mind and heart for the rest of my life. And I'll keep coming back to it. I owe it to Mandolin Boy.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    The annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto was one of the signature events of the Second World War. Its story has been told innumerable times, in print, on film, and in oral histories. But, since I don’t go out of my way to seek out books about the Holocaust, I hadn’t yet come across a book that tells the tale from the perspective of a child. The Book of Aron, a novel by Jim Shepard, does that job brilliantly. It is a superb contribution to the extensive literature about World War II. This is not one The annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto was one of the signature events of the Second World War. Its story has been told innumerable times, in print, on film, and in oral histories. But, since I don’t go out of my way to seek out books about the Holocaust, I hadn’t yet come across a book that tells the tale from the perspective of a child. The Book of Aron, a novel by Jim Shepard, does that job brilliantly. It is a superb contribution to the extensive literature about World War II. This is not one of those predictable tales of the heroic but doomed Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The action takes place in the months leading up to the uprising. The story revolves around the life of a boy named Aron, the son of a poor Jewish couple from a Polish shtetl near the Lithuanian border. Aron is eight years old when the tale begins in 1936, but the book focuses on the tragic months in 1942 when he is thirteen. As the Nazis progressively shrink the borders of the Ghetto and starve its residents, Aron and his gang of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds turn to petty crime in an effort to survive. They become adept in sneaking through gates or crawling through tunnels to the streets outside the Ghetto, smuggling food back in for themselves and their families. This is not a pretty story. Through misadventure, Aron is coopted by one of the Jewish policemen who control the residents on behalf of Nazi Germany. As their relationship unfolds, we view the depths of depravity to which so many Jews were subjected under the unimaginable pressures of Nazi tyranny. We are also introduced to the nobility that somehow survived in some of them. Though The Book of Aron is told from the boy’s point of view, the central character, introduced some time later, is the real-life figure of Janusz Korzcak. As Wikipedia explains, “the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, [Korzcak] was a Polish-Jewish educator, children’s author, and pediatrician known as Pan Doktor or Stary Doktor.” In the novel, as in real life, “After spending many years working as director of an orphanage in Warsaw, [Korzcak] refused freedom and stayed with his orphans when the [children and staff in the] institution [were] sent from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp.” Korzcak was one of the true heroes of this evil episode in the history of the human race.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    I am not sure how to rate this book - books about war and the horrors of war are always difficult to rate AND review. I cannot say I liked this book; the subject matter is horrific and I spent much of the last part of the book in tears. But it is a well crafted book; the author tells the story well. You feel EXACTLY what you are supposed to feel and his accomplishment of that is to be commended [I cannot even imagine writing a book like this - I would need puppies and rainbows and unicorns for w I am not sure how to rate this book - books about war and the horrors of war are always difficult to rate AND review. I cannot say I liked this book; the subject matter is horrific and I spent much of the last part of the book in tears. But it is a well crafted book; the author tells the story well. You feel EXACTLY what you are supposed to feel and his accomplishment of that is to be commended [I cannot even imagine writing a book like this - I would need puppies and rainbows and unicorns for weeks after finishing]. It was also difficult as I see our country heading back towards this horrific time in history - I was reminded over and over that we must do all we can to keep atrocities like these from ever happening again. So the book was also a good and timely reminder to: Fight. March. Resist. And that means this must get at least 4 stars. Because the author told a story, reminded me to resist and to keep moving forward and that the things he wrote about must never come to pass again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shari Strong

    3-1/2 to 4 stars. With spare and simple language, Shepard depicts the fates of Jewish children, families, and orphans—and a noble doctor—living in Warsaw before and after the German invasion. The worsening conditions (in the city, in the ghetto, in an orphanage) are laid out plainly, without high drama. A sort of slow boiling of the frog, as seen through a child's resigned, unsentimental eyes. As a reader, I was drawn into the characters' growing misery and dread, yet Shepard kept the story from 3-1/2 to 4 stars. With spare and simple language, Shepard depicts the fates of Jewish children, families, and orphans—and a noble doctor—living in Warsaw before and after the German invasion. The worsening conditions (in the city, in the ghetto, in an orphanage) are laid out plainly, without high drama. A sort of slow boiling of the frog, as seen through a child's resigned, unsentimental eyes. As a reader, I was drawn into the characters' growing misery and dread, yet Shepard kept the story from becoming sentimental or melodramatic. I did have questions about point of view and the point in time when this first-person story is told (to whom? when? under what conditions?), which felt a little distracting. But overall, I found Shepard's novel to be compact and powerful, and starkly moving.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    Many reviews speak of a book being "heartbreaking" and I've wondered if the word might have been just a bit much. Now, having read "The Book of Aron," I must use the word myself. I've read more Holocaust-related books than I can count, but I've never read anything quite like this. Life and death in the Warsaw Ghetto are seen here through the eyes of a 9-year old boy who describes himself as a self-centered, awful person (because that's how he understands what adults say to him). Aron sees a grea Many reviews speak of a book being "heartbreaking" and I've wondered if the word might have been just a bit much. Now, having read "The Book of Aron," I must use the word myself. I've read more Holocaust-related books than I can count, but I've never read anything quite like this. Life and death in the Warsaw Ghetto are seen here through the eyes of a 9-year old boy who describes himself as a self-centered, awful person (because that's how he understands what adults say to him). Aron sees a great deal of the tragedy going on around him, but as a child he doesn't always understand exactly what it is he's seeing. We do, however. Bit by bit, we see the moral ambiguities of his situation and the things he must do to survive. We know the history unfolding just out of his sight and what unfathomable darkness is descending on him and everyone around him.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Unsentimental, sometimes quite funny and, ultimately, devastating book written from the point of view of a not-so-nice 9 year old boy in the Warsaw Ghetto. Jim Shepard is known for his prodigous research and, despite the apparent simplicity of the story and the prose, it really shows.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

    A child's eye view of the Warsaw Ghetto. Powerful. Final section takes place in Janusz Korczak's orphanage, and the ending poses the question: was Korczak's unwillingness to escape and refusal to abandon his orphans noble, or did it make the Nazi murderers' job easier (or maybe both)? A child's eye view of the Warsaw Ghetto. Powerful. Final section takes place in Janusz Korczak's orphanage, and the ending poses the question: was Korczak's unwillingness to escape and refusal to abandon his orphans noble, or did it make the Nazi murderers' job easier (or maybe both)?

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