The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
Knopf, 2015. Hardcover, 272 pages.
The Book of Aron is being advertised as the next Schindler’s List for a good reason. It provides a deep look into the Holocaust from a unique angle and is so steeped in historical accuracy as to nearly be non-fiction.
The book follows a young Jewish boy named Aron through the atrocities of the Holocaust and the events leading up to it. First, readers will see how Aron and his family moved to Warsaw from the countryside for better work only to see their movements restricted further and further each day. Soon, like so many others, they are forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. Readers then see how conditions worsen even further for Aron and his family: severe rationing; patrols by Jewish, German, and Polish police; rule under the Judenrat; the proliferation of smuggling; work details; people disappearing; overcrowded living quarters; prevalence of lice and bedbugs; and the rapid spread of epidemics.
In those early years in the ghetto, Aron is one of the many children involved in the smuggling trade. He and a group of friends (Lutek, Boris, Zofia, and Adina) find ways to obtain needed goods, especially food. They used tunnels, covered their Star of David armbands, and snuck in and out via the trolley until it quit running. Often, they were nearly caught. However, the were able to bring food too their families’ tables directly or by trading other good for it. However, the police forces and diseases finally caught up with everyone in their own ways.
Eventually, Aron finds himself in an orphanage, another experience many Jewish children faced. In this half of the novel, we see the horrors faced their as children went hungry; their caretakers struggled to obtain food and other necessities; and disease continued to run rampant. And sticking with the historical angle, Shepard uses a real orphanage in this section. Ran by Janusk Korczak, a doctor, everything there was done to benefit the children. Korczak often ran himself to the ground in order to see the children put first and Aron, as one of the oldest children, often found ways to help with that. Sadly, the ending, like so many other Holocaust stories, is predictable.
While a quick read, The Book of Aron is not an easy read. Yes, the text flows well, but the subject is a harsh picture of a reality that once was. It’s the subject matter that makes reading the book difficult because it is hard to believe that events depicted in the novel happened to real people. It shows how low humanity can sink. Sadly, the long list of resources listed at the end of the book proves this. So does everything I learned when I took a course on the Holocaust in college. That fact alone is one reason why someone should read this book; it drives the reality of what occurred home more than any work of non-fiction could have. Between the fact the novel was written in the first person and featured a cast of relatable characters, it is hard for that not to be the case. It will truly help one to understand the plight many encountered.
Note: Have Kleenex handy; you may need them.
This novel will be released tomorrow, 5/12/15.
Do you plant to read this novel? Do you think you have the ability to stomach The Book of Aron and be placed in Aron’s shoes for a few hours?