Anya’s War

Andrea Alban
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011
Anya’s War is a first per­son account of a 14-year-old Jew­ish girl’s adven­tures and mis­ad­ven­tures in accli­mat­ing to her new life in Shang­hai in 1937. Her upper class Jew­ish fam­i­ly has fled there from Odessa, Rus­sia, where Jews are being per­se­cut­ed under Com­mu­nism. Anya Rosen (her father has just short­ened the fam­i­ly name from Rosen­garten) nar­rates the events around her 14th birth­day when, rid­ing her new bicy­cle home with her pur­chas­es from the kosher butch­er, she hears a mew­ing sound that turns out to be a cry­ing baby. She finds and res­cues the Chi­nese infant girl she hears cry­ing in the bush­es. The baby has been aban­doned because she is a girl and unwant­ed by a soci­ety that val­ues males over females. (This event is based on the fac­tu­al account of the author Andrea Alban’s grand­fa­ther, who lived in Shang­hai at that time and brought home such an aban­doned infant girl.) We learn much about Chi­nese cul­ture in this book, and much about Jew­ish cul­ture and fam­i­ly life. The Rosens — Anya, Geor­gi (her younger broth­er) Mama, Papa, Babush­ka and Dedush­ka — cel­e­brate Shab­bat faith­ful­ly in ele­gant Odessa style. Anya express­es a very per­son­al and emo­tion­al expe­ri­ence of Shab­bat:

Anya lit hers last, one can­dle for shamor, obser­vance, and one for zachor, remem­brance. It was time for her sec­ond neshamah to enter her body. Her skin tin­gled with the feel­ing of the addi­tion­al soul slip­ping in. This extra soul might dis­tract her from her wor­ries about the Japan­ese and Chi­nese fight­ing for con­trol of Shang­hai.

Anya wor­ries about the big things: war, infan­ti­cide, injus­tice to females in Chi­na, a bomb­ing that injures her broth­er, and Amelia Earhart, whose plane is lost. She also wor­ries about per­son­al things: a boy she likes, her looks, her rela­tion­ship with her moth­er, father, broth­er, Babush­ka and Dedush­ka. She has a close and trust­ing rela­tion­ship with Li Mei, the family’s 17-year-old Chi­nese cook. Anya writes in a Book of Moons (diary) and opens her per­son­al and polit­i­cal world to young read­ers. Though fic­tion­al­ized, this account of a lit­tle known peri­od of Jew­ish, Russ­ian, and Chi­nese his­to­ry fills in a blank that most don’t know. Boys and the male view­point are well rep­re­sent­ed in this book, so it is not a book for girls only. Ages 10 and up.
Nao­mi Morse man­aged a pub­lic library children’s room in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, Mary­land for many years, and then worked as head librar­i­an at the Charles E. Smith Jew­ish Day School Low­er School in Rockville, Mary­land. She has served on AJL’s Syd­ney Tay­lor Com­mit­tee, and last year (2008) was a mem­ber of ALA’s Calde­cott Com­mit­tee. She is an inde­pen­dent book reviewer.

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