A Stranger to My Brothers

Henye Mey­er
  • Review
By – June 15, 2015

Mar­tin is the ulti­mate out­sider. No mat­ter where he goes, he does not fit in. Or­phaned young, born Jew­ish but liv­ing as a non- Jew in the peri­od of the first of the Cru­sades, he wan­ders from com­mu­ni­ty to com­mu­ni­ty on the fringe of every group. Yearn­ing for a home, he describes fam­i­ly in this way: It’s not only rela­tions. It’s a… place that’s yours by right… when­ev­er you want it…” 

A rebel and imma­ture, he attach­es him­self to sev­er­al groups that he lat­er finds out are doing ter­ri­ble things and care noth­ing about what hap­pens to him. At first, it is the Pere­gri­ni, a rab­ble group who is out to kill Jews. How­ev­er, when he sees the kill­ing and pil­lag­ing they do, he dis­as­so­ci­ates him­self. In the process he befriends a young Jew, Efraim, who is run­ning for his life. Mar­tin accom­pa­nies him and pro­tects him until they find a Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that wel­comes them. It is then that Efraim encour­ages Mar­tin to live as a Jew. 

Even though the boys come with noth­ing, the com­mu­ni­ty pro­vides for them. He and Efraim are assigned to Theios Ionas, a wid­ow­er who is will­ing to give them shel­ter and food. Still griev­ing from the loss of his wife, he is emo­tion­al­ly unavail­able. How­ev­er, he tries to make room for them in his small set of rooms. There Mar­tin has his first intro­duc­tion to Judaism. He finds the obser­vances of Judaism bur­den­some and Efraim a per­son­al­i­ty that he wants to escape, and so he leaves. He is attract­ed to the excit­ing near­by city of Kon­stantinoble and finds the emperor’s per­son­al guard, the Varangians, a group he would like to join. Too young by two years to join this group, he is cho­sen by one of its mem­bers to be his luck-piece.” This enti­tles Mar­tin to food, a place to sleep, some mar­tial train­ing and the cama­raderie of the group, espe­cial­ly of Half­dan, the man who has cho­sen him. It is only when he dis­cov­ers that Half­dan feels no oblig­a­tion to Mar­tin after he is wound­ed try­ing to save Halfdan’s life, that he leaves the group and returns to the home of Theios Ionas. 

By this time, Efraim has left the com­mu­ni­ty and Mar­tin has begun to mature. He can now appre­ci­ate not only the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty but the new role of Theios Ionas. No longer the obstreper­ous, ungrate­ful lout he was when he first came into this home, he real­izes that Theios Ionas is try­ing to father” him in the most pos­i­tive and lov­ing way. He teach­es him a trade, weav­ing, and pos­i­tive­ly rein­forces his abil­i­ty to weave the most ele­gant silks. When his real broth­ers find him he must decide whether to go with his blood rel­a­tives or to remain with his adopt­ed father. 

This book is a page turn­er. It rais­es some inter­est­ing themes — loy­al­ty, treach­ery, aban­don­ment, and self­less­ness. It also gives insights into the era of the ear­ly Cru­sades where Jews were ter­ror­ized. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 12 – 16.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

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