“The Book of Aron” by Jim Shepard
UNSETTLING. That’s the first word that comes to mind reading this book. Which is true, because every war story is unsettling. Some people like Aron become unsettled: emotionally and physically.
As a reader you become unsettled. This is not a bedtime story. It takes place in a Warsaw ghetto in 1939. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m obsessed about anything to do with the Germans, the Jews and the Holocaust. Even the humour is unsettling:
“So Hitler sees Jesus in Paradise and says to St Peter, “Hey, what’s that Jew doing without an armband?”‘ he said.’ And St Peter tells him, “Leave him alone. He’s the Boss’s son.” (p.123)
Warsaw ghetto, 1939
Aron is a nine-year-old Polish Jew, and a troublemaker.
Dr Janusz Korczak is trying to keep a hundred and fifty orphans from starving.
They call the Doctor a hero. Aron is not a hero. He is ordinary.
He is willing to do what the Doctor will not.
What I liked about the book:
From the very first page Jim Shepard draws you in with the dark humour in the first sentence:
“My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done, and my uncle told everyone they should have called me What Were You Thinking”
I kept reading the last sentence on the back cover: what is Aron willing to do what the Doctor will not? That is the mystery that keeps you wondering until the last page is turned.
First published: 2015
This book is another example of faction: a novel that reads like fiction but are mostly based on facts. Joshua Ferris calls it “historical fiction”. It focuses on Dr Janusz Korczak who was a Pole and ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. The last thing known about him is that he followed his charges to Treblinka and the death camps.