My Real Name Is Hanna

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Juvenile / Young Adult - JOHN M. MUR­RAY

Tara Lynn Masih Man­del Vi­lar Press (SEPTEM­BER) Soft­cover $16.95 (206pp), 978-1-942134-51-0

Nar­rated as a har­row­ing mem­ory re­told to an in­quis­i­tive grand­daugh­ter, Hanna’s story be­gins in 1939. Hanna and her fam­ily live in a re­mote vil­lage in Soviet-oc­cu­pied Ukraine. An­tisemitism is a con­stant is­sue, but it does lit­tle to dampen Hanna’s vi­va­cious­ness and con­nec­tion to a Chris­tian neigh­bor.

Hitler’s army poses an in­creas­ing threat that drives Hanna, her fam­ily, and other Jewish vil­lagers into hid­ing. At first, they sim­ply rush for wall and floor hide­aways when­ever a threat arises; even­tu­ally, most flee into the for­est. Hanna’s fam­ily and oth­ers es­cape into a se­ries of un­der­ground caves and spend the rest of the war ek­ing out a liv­ing, com­bat­ing hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion and try­ing to stay true to their faith.

A brief pref­ace of­fers mo­men­tary respite from this harsh­ness, re­veal­ing that Hanna sur­vives the hard times to live a long and happy life; the war can­not snuff out her spirit. In re­count­ing her tale, she speaks her true name for the first time, hav­ing adopted an alias to im­mi­grate to Amer­ica.

Nar­rated with a bal­anced blend of youth­ful in­no­cence and ma­tu­rity, Hanna’s de­scrip­tions are of­ten po­etic and vivid. To strong ef­fect, the love­li­ness of Hanna’s thoughts coun­ters the ever-present dan­gers of what she faces.

With deep em­pa­thy and in­tense sen­si­tiv­ity, the nar­ra­tion seam­lessly slips into the voices of var­i­ous fam­ily mem­bers and friends; they nar­rate sto­ries to pass the time. Un­cle Levi stands out among them; he is con­flicted by faith, but de­ter­mined to help oth­ers at great per­sonal risk. Re­minders to re­mem­ber the Holo­caust and to cre­ate at­mos­pheres of tol­er­ance are strongly im­parted through­out.

Though the Nazi threat is al­ways present, the nar­ra­tive is more fo­cused on the unique el­e­ments of Hanna’s Ukrainian vil­lage, with its blended cul­ture and tra­di­tions. Claus­tro­pho­bic chap­ters set in the cave are well jux­ta­posed with ear­lier airy and hope­ful set­tings. Balanc­ing his­tor­i­cal re­al­i­ties with beau­ti­ful prose, My Real Name Is Hanna is en­gag­ing.

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