The Night of the Burn­ing-Devo­rah’s Story

Lin­da Press Wulf
  • Review
By – November 11, 2011

Debut author Lin­da Press Wulf presents a poignant and curi­ous tale that right­ful­ly earned her the 1998 Syd­ney Tay­lor Man­u­script Award. Based close­ly on her mother-in-law’s child­hood expe­ri­ences, Wulf deft­ly weaves an emo­tion­al­ly charged sto­ry that is full of despair and heart­break, loss and hope. With vivid images and sim­ple, but ele­gant lan­guage, this mem­o­rable title is an excel­lent work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that should be includ­ed in all library collections. 

For twelve-year-old Devo­rah Lehrman and her younger sis­ter, Nechama, grow­ing up in a Pol­ish shtetl dur­ing the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry is all about sur­vival. Liv­ing side by side with their Chris­t­ian neigh­bors, food is scarce and work is lim­it­ed for the few Jew­ish fam­i­lies of Domache­vo. Devorah’s par­ents try to pro­vide for the girls, but are strick­en with typhoid fever and the two girls are left in the care of their wid­owed aunt. On a dark and drea­ry night in 1921, anti-Semit­ic Russ­ian sol­diers attack the small town, destroy the syn­a­gogue, and burn down the homes of the Jews. Devorah’s aunt hides the girls in the loft of a barn; the girls sur­vive the night of ter­ror, but their aunt is ruth­less­ly mur­dered by a Cossack. 

As orphans, the girls are tak­en to War­saw, where they are part of a group of two hun­dred Jew­ish chil­dren who will trav­el to South Africa, a much safer coun­try, in order to be adopt­ed by Jew­ish fam­i­lies. A strug­gling pho­tog­ra­ph­er and his wife take in Devo­rah while Nechama, now known as Nao­mi, becomes part of the wealthy Stein fam­i­ly. Sep­a­rat­ed from her sis­ter, she strug­gles with her new life and holds on to her grief. In a piv­otal moment with her adopt­ed moth­er, Devo­rah real­izes it is time to embrace her sec­ond chance at life and open her heart to joy. 

The strength of this com­pas­sion­ate sto­ry lies in the pow­er of the first per­son nar­ra­tion by Devo­rah, alter­nat­ing chap­ters from her past in Poland to her present life in Africa. His­tor­i­cal notes found at the back of the book and a glos­sary of Hebrew and Yid­dish terms scat­tered in the text will give the read­er, a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the tur­bu­lent times the Lehrman fam­i­ly expe­ri­enced at the ear­ly part of the last cen­tu­ry. Ages 9 – 12.

Debra Gold has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 20 years in the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Pub­lic Library Sys­tem. An active mem­ber of the ALA, she has served on many com­mit­tees includ­ing the Calde­cott, New­bery and Batchelder committees.

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