Mas­ters of Silence

  • Review
By – July 22, 2019

Kac­er’s pro­tag­o­nists are a sis­ter and broth­er, Helen and Hen­ry, liv­ing in France dur­ing the 1940s, who are brought to a con­vent by their moth­er after their father has dis­ap­peared and is pre­sumed arrest­ed. Their moth­er has heard that the sym­pa­thet­ic nuns are will­ing to hide Jew­ish chil­dren to ensure their sur­vival. The two young­sters final­ly begin to set­tle into con­vent life among oth­er Jew­ish chil­dren in hid­ing when they are informed by the Moth­er Supe­ri­or that Nazi sol­diers sta­tioned in the area are becom­ing sus­pi­cious and they must now be moved to Switzer­land to a more secure loca­tion. Mar­cel Marceau, famed mime and per­for­mance artist, called the clown” by the chil­dren, has been a fre­quent enter­tain­er at the con­vent, dis­tract­ing them from their fears and becom­ing a beloved con­fi­dante. Marceau is assigned to guide Helen, Hen­ry, and their friend through the for­est as they set off on their jour­ney toward the bor­der. As they nav­i­gate the chal­leng­ing and treach­er­ous jour­ney, Marceau informs them that he is also Jew­ish and is a mem­ber of the under­ground Resis­tance. He assures them that he has smug­gled peo­ple across the bor­der before and he gains their trust, due to his sen­si­tiv­i­ty and under­stand­ing. He uses his mim­ing and act­ing skills to amuse them and keep them calm enough to per­se­vere and remain stead­fast in com­plet­ing their mis­sion in spite of some close calls. He has taught some of these skills to the chil­dren who use them cre­ative­ly to help them suc­ceed in their escape.

The con­cept of using one’s wits to sur­vive dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions is a recur­rent theme in recent Jew­ish chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, espe­cial­ly sto­ries set dur­ing the Holo­caust. It presents today’s chil­dren with impor­tant mes­sages about the val­ue of self-reliance, faith, and hope. This sto­ry has an addi­tion­al impor­tant motif: the many faces of silence. For exam­ple, Hen­ry is mute out of ter­ror, qui­et is shown as a nec­es­sary com­po­nent of a dar­ing escape, and secre­cy and mis­di­rec­tion are vital as well to ensure sur­vival. Marceau’s tal­ent as a mime reflects the val­ue of silence, tying the themes togeth­er in a grace­ful and artis­tic manner.

This book is one of four in a series by Kac­er called The Heroes Quar­tet, which fea­tures coura­geous and dar­ing res­cues dur­ing World War II. The book serves as an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the Holo­caust for younger chil­dren, who are not ready to read about some of the more graph­ic hor­rors of the time. Kac­er uses crisp, clear nar­ra­tion and has a gen­tle sense of dra­ma, help­ing the read­er expe­ri­ence the sus­pense along with the characters.

Those who may have heard of Mar­cel Marceau may not know that he is Jew­ish or that he played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the French Resis­tance. An append­ed author’s note tells more about Marceau’s life and his own escape from Nazi per­se­cu­tion as well as his lat­er world-renowned and high­ly acclaimed career as a mime. Marceau is known to have been mod­est and unas­sum­ing regard­ing his hero­ic wartime exploits. His role in the Resis­tance is only recent­ly being writ­ten about in greater detail and he is now acknowl­edged for his heroism.

Mas­ters of Silence deft­ly blends fact and fic­tion, result­ing in an engag­ing sto­ry which will appre­ci­at­ed by chil­dren, par­ents, and educators.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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