• Review
By – December 21, 2017

Refugee by Alan Gratz | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

This his­tor­i­cal fic­tion nov­el fol­lows the lives of three fam­i­lies — Ger­man Jews in World War II, Cubans under the Cas­tro régime in 1994, and present-day Syr­i­ans — all attempt­ing to flee the unbear­able strife of their home­lands. The book cul­mi­nates in bit­ter-sweet out­comes for all three.The well-writ­ten, com­pelling sto­ries are told from the view­point of a child from each group: Josef from Ger­many, Isabel from Cuba, and Mah­moud from Syr­ia. They por­tray har­row­ing and unfor­tu­nate­ly real­is­tic expe­ri­ences, and at times the grim­ness can feel too per­son­al­ized, the children’s help­less­ness too real. While all the chil­dren dis­play endear­ing hero­ism and decen­cy, two of the young Jew­ish girls aboard the ill-fat­ed St. Louis are por­trayed in a sur­pris­ing­ly unsym­pa­thet­ic man­ner. The tales con­nect in unlike­ly ways at the end.

The pub­lish­er sug­gests this book for read­ers ages 9 to 12 but, although the read­ing lev­el is appro­pri­ate for that age group, the tales are gru­el­ing, and the depic­tions of death, tor­ture, and bro­ken souls are intense. This book would be more appro­pri­ate for read­ers ages 12 to 14.

Award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and free­lance writer, Helen Weiss Pin­cus, has taught mem­oir writ­ing and cre­ative writ­ing through­out the NY Metro area to senior cit­i­zens and high school stu­dents. Her work has been pub­lished in The New York Times, The Record, The Jew­ish Stan­dard, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She recent­ly added Bub­by” to her job description.

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