Skat­ing With the Stat­ue of Liberty

  • Review
By – March 23, 2017

In this sequel to Black Radish­es, wartime refugee Gus­tave Beck­er arrives on a Por­tuguese ship in Bal­ti­more in Jan­u­ary 1942 with his par­ents, his cousin and his moth­er. They trav­el to New York City. Gus­tave enters Joan of Arc Junior High and strug­gles with learn­ing Eng­lish and the Amer­i­can way of life which dif­fers so marked­ly from pre-war or wartime France. He joins the Fran­co-Amer­i­can Boy Scout troop and finds a friend in African-Amer­i­can class­mate Sep­tem­ber Rose Walk­er. He doesn’t under­stand how dis­crim­i­na­tion against African-Amer­i­cans and Jews could exist in Amer­i­ca; it reminds him of Nazism. Through­out, he con­tin­ues to won­der about the where­abouts of his friend Mar­cel, and Saint-Georges cor­re­spon­dent Nicole keeps him informed through code words in her letters.

Mey­er presents a wartime New York City through the eyes of a refugee. Her back mat­ter notes she has relied on oral his­to­ries and mem­oir to research the time and place. The nar­ra­tive is large­ly based on her father’s life. While com­pelling, the plot seems con­trived and over­ly manip­u­lat­ed in spots and there are a few minor inac­cu­ra­cies. Still, Mey­er has cap­tured the refugee expe­ri­ence, the strange­ness and won­der, the chal­lenge and impact of learn­ing Eng­lish, the pover­ty, and the flash­backs of ter­ror­ized life in Nazi-occu­pied France. For the Amer­i­can per­spec­tive on wartime refugees, see Lila Perl’s Isabel’s War, clear­ly writ­ten by an author who lived through this time peri­od and brings verisimil­i­tude to the narrative.

Rec­om­mend­ed to with the pre­quel Black Radish­es, ages 9 – 12.

Bar­bara Kras­ner is an award-win­ning poet and his­to­ri­an who focus­es her writ­ing on the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in Amer­i­ca and dur­ing the Holo­caust. She teach­es in the his­to­ry depart­ment of The Col­lege of New Jer­sey and serves as Direc­tor, Mer­cer Holo­caust, Geno­cide & Human Rights Edu­ca­tion Center.

Discussion Questions