Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: My Family for the War

My Family for the War
By Anne C. Voorhoeve (Translated by Tammi Reichel)
Penguin, February 2012

About the Book

Escaping Nazi Germany on the kindertransport changes one girl’s life forever.

At the start of World War II, ten-year-old Franziska Mangold is torn from her family when she boards the kindertransport in Berlin, the train that secretly took nearly 10,000 children out of Nazi territory to safety in England. Taken in by strangers who soon become more like family than her real parents, Frances (as she is now known) courageously pieces together a new life for herself because she doesn’t know when or if she'll see her true family again. Against the backdrop of war-torn London, Frances struggles with questions of identity, family, and love, and these experiences shape her into a dauntless, charming young woman.

Originally published in Germany, Anne Voorhoeve’s award-winning novel is filled with humor, danger, and romance.

My Review

I would never find another friend like Rebekka Liebich. she crouched on the narrow windowsill, one hand holding tight to the frame, and held the other hand stretched out in front of her, as if that would somehow shorten the distance of almost five feet between her and the trunk of the birch tree. I stood in the courtyard three floors below and would have liked to close my eyes, but I couldn’t even manage that. I stared up at her, hypnotized. 

I just loved, loved, loved My Family for the War. It is beautifully written and stars unforgettable characters. I loved the heroine, Franziska Mangold. Her nickname, in Germany, is Ziska, but when she travels to England, she’s renamed Frances. I loved her narrative voice. I found it compelling and haunting. The events of the novel can be dramatic here and there, but I never felt it was too much. I felt it was done very realistically. It made me think, but more importantly it made me feel.

My Family For the War opens with Ziska and her best friend, Bekka, working on their survival plans. The year is 1938. The setting is Berlin, Germany. Bekka and Ziska are Jews, though I believe both are Christian, their families having converted to the Christian faith several generations previously. But Hitler and his Nazis don’t care what a person believes. Any one with even a trace of Jewish blood in their family—no matter how past, no matter how distant—is considered Jewish. And to be Jewish in Nazi Germany is a dangerous thing. It is a matter of life and death.

That is why their parents are doing anything and everything to get out of the country—filling out applications to migrate to any country still accepting Jews. Which is why their children don’t exactly play. They make plans on how to survive attacks from bullies. Mapping out places to hide, mapping out different ways to get home, always wanting to find places they can disappear. They are not always successful. Ziska comes home beaten and bruised a time or two at least. But it isn’t easy to escape Germany—not even in 1938. Though perhaps it is easier in 1938 than it would be after the war officially starts.

One day Bekka tells Ziska about the kindertransports. There is hope for Jewish children under the age of sixteen. England is accepting Jewish children and placing them with foster parents. This option won’t save entire families, but it will save some of the children at least. And some adults realize just what this could mean: life, a future for their child. At first, Ziska is angry that her mother would even consider—for half a minute—sending her away to strangers, sending her alone to a strange country where she doesn’t speak the language. But Ziska is one of the children who finds herself being rescued through the kindertransports. Bekka is not. At least not yet. The two had hoped to go at the same time, but that doesn’t work out.

Most of the book follows Ziska’s life as Frances, the young girl who grows into a young woman in England. She’s settled with an Orthodox family. The novel is about her experiences with her foster mom and dad, with her new brother, Gary. The novel is about what it’s like to start a new life while being so very unsure about the old one. She is able to communicate with her mother until the war starts. But then everything changes. Especially when the Germans start bombing England.

As I said, I just loved My Family for the War. I absolutely loved the characters. I really just loved them all. I loved Frances. I loved Gary and thought he was a great brother and just the right person to start the healing process for Frances. I loved Amanda, the foster mom. I just felt for her so much. And to see these two grow together, well, it was magical. Her foster Dad was great as well. And then there are the friends she meets—including one from the kindertransport, Walter. There was so much to love about him as well! This novel is just so wonderful, so well-written.

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