The Boy with the Star Tattoo

  • Review
By – January 29, 2024

In the pro­logue of this work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, a young Jew­ish woman leads a group of chil­dren on a small boat. It is 1946, and they are head­ed to Eretz Israel, where they’ll wait for Haganah mem­bers to dis­creet­ly take them to free­dom — with­out being detect­ed by the British, who con­trol Pales­tine. This moment sets up a series of tense, secre­tive plots that unrav­el through­out the book. 

Dur­ing the Holo­caust, many Jew­ish chil­dren were hid­den with Chris­t­ian fos­ter fam­i­lies in France, and the Youth Aliyah move­ment aimed to find and save these Jew­ish orphans and bring them to Israel. The Boy with the Star Tat­too explores these events and their ram­i­fi­ca­tions over almost three decades. The nov­el is told from the points of view of three char­ac­ters: Uzi Yarden, Sharon Bloo­men­thal, and Claudette Pelletier. 

Uzi is an Israeli com­mit­ted to the Youth Aliyah move­ment. Sharon Bloo­men­thal is a twen­ty-year-old recruit for an enig­mat­ic Israeli naval oper­a­tion in Cher­bourg in 1968. She’s in a state of depres­sion and lone­li­ness as she waits for news about the fate of her fiancé, who was on a sub­ma­rine that recent­ly dis­ap­peared. While in France, Sharon’s job is to meet naval recruits at var­i­ous air­ports and train sta­tions through­out Europe — to avoid detec­tion of their oper­a­tion — and then escort or direct them to Cher­bourg. The busy, exhil­a­rat­ing sched­ule in which Sharon is caught up caus­es her to won­der anew about her deceased mother’s escape from France with Youth Aliyah after World War II. With any leisure time she man­ages to find, she inter­views cler­gy, Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors, and Chris­t­ian towns­peo­ple to try to piece togeth­er who her moth­er was and how she arrived in Israel. Mean­while, Sharon finds out that Dan­ny, an Israeli naval offi­cer in Cher­bourg, was also res­cued through Youth Aliyah. She con­ducts some secret inves­ti­ga­tions into his past in order to learn more about her own family. 

Then there’s Claudette Pel­leti­er, a young French Chris­t­ian woman liv­ing in the Chateau de Valen­cay in 1942. A seam­stress for the duchess, she finds her­self in the midst of a refugee cri­sis, extreme food short­age, and a fear that, as a dis­abled per­son, she might be tar­get­ed by the Nazis as well. She falls in love with a Jew­ish man who is also an invalid,” and their sto­ry becomes inter­twined with the Youth Aliyah move­ment. Carn­er bal­ances the dan­ger and despair Jews felt dur­ing a peri­od of increased depor­ta­tions and arrests with the hero­ism and per­se­ver­ance they exhib­it­ed in post­war France.

Carn­er includes a num­ber of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, includ­ing Felix Amiot and Mok­ka Limon, as well as many well-researched details about the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Dakar sub­ma­rine. She also cov­ers the Cher­bourg Project, which released a dozen Israeli ships in France dur­ing an arms embar­go, and the work of the Youth Aliyah move­ment between World War II and the cre­ation of the State of Israel. 

The Boy with the Star Tat­too is a worth­while read. It simul­ta­ne­ous­ly depicts lit­tle-known his­tor­i­cal moments in France and the human­i­ty and resilience of Carner’s characters. 

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

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