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.