• Review
By – May 19, 2015

In the War­saw ghet­to, child­hood ceased to exist. Chil­dren became thieves, smug­glers, and deal­ers in stolen goods in order to sur­vive and sup­port their fam­i­lies. Sur­round­ed by filth, fear, dis­ease, and dan­ger, Aron — an unpromis­ing child — finds his voca­tion and his voice. In straight­for­ward and unspar­ing words, he tells his sto­ry, draw­ing the read­er into the war as an inex­plic­a­ble event that sweeps Aron and his gang of fel­low smug­glers into a dar­ing mix of child­hood brava­do, inge­nu­ity, and courage.

Lit­tle by lit­tle, the world clos­es in on Aron and his fam­i­ly. Hav­ing moved to War­saw for the promise of work, the fam­i­ly, nev­er a very set­tled one, slow­ly unrav­els as it is faced with one restric­tion after anoth­er. Up goes the wall; typhus tears through the ghet­to as more dis­placed fam­i­lies move in; lay­ers of police and sol­diers — Jew­ish, Pol­ish, Ger­man — patrol the streets. In and out of this mis­ery weaves Janusz Kor­czak, known through­out Europe as an edu­ca­tor and reformer. To Aron he is first a voice on the radio, host of a pop­u­lar advice pro­gram. Aron then watch­es as Kor­czak leads a col­or­ful parade of his orphans into the ghet­to and even attends a children’s play pro­duced at the orphan­age. Again he glimpses Kor­czak when he res­cues a beat­en child. Ulti­mate­ly Kor­czak is Aron’s sav­ior. His father and old­er broth­ers hav­ing dis­ap­peared into labor camps, his moth­er dead from typhus, Aron is thrown out of his home by the fam­i­ly that shares his apart­ment; he wan­ders the alleys of the ghet­to, starv­ing and sick, until he is tak­en to the orphanage.

Based on exten­sive research and events record­ed in Korczak’s Ghet­to Diary, The Book of Aron doc­u­ments the last months of Kor­czak and the ghet­to orphan­age through Aron’s eyes, the eyes of a child beyond his years and abil­i­ty to shape his life. Jim Shep­ard tells a heart­break­ing and hor­rif­ic sto­ry; he was also inspired by Aron’s sto­ry, and the sto­ry of all chil­dren stripped of their lives by uncontrol­lable forces they can­not under­stand. Acknowl­edgments, bibliography.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

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