Sam Kingston is dead. Except she isn t. On a rainy February night, Sam is killed in a horrific car cRead Review
The Wrong Boy
"Being kissed by Karl Jager was devastating. And beautiful. War makes you do crazy things."
Hanna Mendel liked to know what was going to happen next. She was going to be a famous concert pianist. She was going to wear her yellow dress to the dance on Saturday night.
But she didn't plan on her street being turned into a ghetto. She didn't plan on being rounded up and thrown in a cattle truck. She didn't plan on spending her sixteenth birthday in Auschwitz, in a wooden barrack with two hundred other prisoners.
Most of all, Hanna didn't plan on falling in love with the wrong boy.
One night the ghetto is evacuated. Everyone is told to pack a bag and enough food to last three days. The Jews are being taken to a work camp.
Hanna and her family leave their apartment, their valuables and small mementos behind (save for a C-sharp black key from Hanna’s beloved piano). They will be there when they come back, when this war ends . . . But no one is prepared for the journey before them.
All the Jews are herded into cattle trains; made to stand for days on end while the train clambers along the countryside, taking them to Poland and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
At Auschwitz Hanna, Erika and their mother are separated from their father – with a flick of his cane, Josef Mengele sends healthy workers to the right, while the children, elderly and infirm are sent to the left and never seen again. . .
The women are stripped, shaved and tattooed. Hanna is now A10573, and put to work in the quarry like everyone else. But it quickly becomes apparent that the Auschwitz slogan ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (work sets you free) is a cruel taunt. Everyone works for mouldy bread and muddied water. Block leaders whip and beat the women if they so much as look at them the wrong way . . . Auschwitz is no work camp, Hanna decides, rather it is a place of death.
Hanna is successful and wins the audition – and it is in Jager’s house, playing for his SS officer friends, that Hanna first sees Karl, Jager’s son. What starts as contempt for the beautiful boy turns into something more, something dangerous and forbidden.
‘The Wrong Boy’ is the new young adult novel from Australian author Suzy Zail.
I first heard about Suzy Zail’s novel from Adele, of Persnickety Snark fame. Then I was told that Ms Zail had attended the same RMIT Writing & Editing course as me, and that a couple of my friends were mentioned in her ‘Acknowledgements’. So, long before I actually read the book, I was excited for all the whispers of brilliance, and because the blurb was thoroughly intriguing. And now that I have devoured the novel, I must say that all the advance praise is utterly deserved. ‘The Wrong Boy’ is a beautifully crushing read, and I hope it gets nominated for a few young adult literary awards in 2012.
From 1933 to 1945, six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust; though this is a rough estimate, since it’s impossible to precisely know the extent of the slaughter. Of the six million, it is again roughly estimated that 450,000 Hungarian Jews perished. And in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp alone, over one million Jews were murdered.
Suzy Zail’s story is somewhat inspired by her father who, she explains in her author’s note, was sent to Auschwitz when he was just thirteen-years-old. She has previously written a book about how her father survived the Holocaust, titled ‘The Tattooed Flower’, but ‘The Wrong Boy’ is a work of fiction . . . based around a tragic and dark moment in human history.
Through Hanna’s eyes, Suzy Zail explores all aspects of the Holocaust. We learn of the slow unfolding before the war, when Jews were ghettoized and made to live with ‘their own kind’. Hanna speaks about the non-Jewish friends who abandoned her, the neighbours who turned a blind eye. At Auschwitz, Zail delves into the little-discussed politics within the concentration camp and barracks hierarchy. Block leaders were assigned to keep people in check – Jewish women who were also prisoners, but ranked above the rest (and often with a coloured patch on their uniforms, identifying them as murderers). When Hanna is assigned as Captain Jager’s pianist, she and her family experience derision from their barrack mates, who believe Hanna is like those women in the camp who spread their legs for the soldiers.
I closed my eyes and tried to slip inside the music but I couldn’t get in. I squeezed my eyes shut but it was still there, an image flickering against the backs of my eyelids – a man with silver hair bent over a dead body, prying open lips and pulling at gold teeth. I opened my eyes and stared at keys, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t force my way in. I stared at the notes dancing across the page and felt sick.
The romance in Zail’s novel is complex and sure to keep the reader on edge, but is really second-tier to the politics and sadness within Auschwitz. Zail writes about life in the concentration camp with striking clarity and ruthlessness; and these scenes within the camp’s walls are utterly harrowing. Because ‘The Wrong Boy’ is set in Auschwitz, Zail writes about real figures of the Holocaust and Nazi party – Josef Mengele, for example, assumes his role as the ‘Angel of Death’, the camp’s man with the cane who chose who lived and who died. Zail also touches on Mengele’s role as camp doctor, when Hanna’s hometown friends, twin girls, are hand-picked by Mengele and taken from the barracks. . .
Hanna is a brilliant heroine. Throughout the book she sways between terror, anger and profound sadness - but her determination is constant. She simply will not succumb to death in this putrid camp, and she will do anything to help her family survive with her. She is an inspiring heroine, and an utterly compelling narrator.
The young adult genre seems to produce some wonderfully complex and important fiction books about the Holocaust; Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Once’ series, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ by John Boyne, and of course certain nominees in the ‘Sydney Taylor Book Awards for Older Readers and Teen Readers’ (books that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience). ‘The Wrong Boy’ is vital reading, another harrowing but important fictionalized account of the darkest period of human history. I hope that Zail’s novel gets put up for a few literary awards this year. 'The Wrong Boy' is a book that, anyone who reads it will be moved, and enraged by the history and truth within its pages.
I've read " The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" and I feel that this book explain alot more of the way the Jews were treated. It is also a great romantic sad story and is worth reading on a rainy day.