My Child­hood and the Sec­ond World War

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight - BY SCOTT NEUF­FER

Alona Frankel, In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity Press, Soft­cover $25 (280pp), 978-0-253-02235-6

Alona Frankel’s sim­ply ti­tled mem­oir, Girl, presents World War II and the Holo­caust through the eyes and imag­i­na­tion of a young Jewish girl try­ing to make sense of daily ex­pe­ri­ence and the world be­ing torn apart around her.

Frankel is an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned chil­dren’s au­thor. She was born in Poland, where Girl takes place, to Jewish par­ents who were also Com­mu­nists loyal to the Rus­sian rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment. In stream-of-con­scious­ness fash­ion, the book jumps from place to place as the nar­ra­tor re­calls the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion, the Lvov ghetto, her fam­ily’s es­cape from the ghetto and cer­tain ex­e­cu­tion, her filthy and cramped “hid­ing place” dur­ing the Red Army’s ex­pul­sion of Ger­man forces, and her fam­ily’s later em­i­gra­tion to Pales­tine.

Son­dra Sil­ver­ston’s English trans­la­tion from He­brew per­fectly cap­tures Frankel’s del­i­cate im­pres­sion­is­tic prose. Sim­i­lar to James Joyce’s A Por­trait of the Artist as a Young Man, the mem­oir re­lays events as sub­jec­tive im­pres­sions in a child’s brain, let­ting mem­o­ries and as­so­ci­a­tions bleed into each other in vivid, painterly pat­terns. The red bricks of an or­phan­age, for ex­am­ple, are “the color of clot­ted blood.” The strik­ing im­age is wo­ven through­out sub­se­quent chap­ters and be­comes a haunt­ing re­frain, a con­stant re­minder of the mass mur­der and blood­shed suf­fered by the Jewish peo­ple. Other mo­ments of child­hood alien­ation ben­e­fit from more adult ab­strac­tions. “I looked like an ex­is­ten­tial er­ror,” Frankel writes of her shabby ap­pear­ance. “Like dis­so­nance.”

Read­ing Girl is an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence. The hor­ror of the Holo­caust—“the heavy, vis­cous fear of death”—seeps into ev­ery page. Yet, what re­mains by the book’s end isn’t the hor­ror of hu­man evil but the good of the hu­man heart. It’s young Frankel as a girl who be­friends rats and mice while in hid­ing, who celebrates the mir­a­cle of life in un­speak­able con­di­tions. It’s a lit­tle girl in hid­ing who ul­ti­mately finds “beauty that needs noth­ing else.”

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