The Devil’s Arithmetic
By Jane Yolen
Puffin Books, April, 2004
About the Book
Twelve-year-old Hannah is transported back to a 1940s Polish village where she experiences the very horrors that had embarrassed and annoyed her when her elders related their Holocaust experiences.
The Devil’s Arithmetic is a captivating book. It is a story within a story. I’m not sure why it works so brilliantly, I just know it does.
The outside frame of the story is set in modern times. Hannah, the heroine, is, along with her family, preparing to celebrate the Passover Seder at another family member’s home. To Hannah, this “celebration” or “observance” is a waste of time and energy. She just does not get it at all or understand why it’s so important to other members of her family. It’s something she has to do that she can’t talk her way out of. But something happens to Hannah when she opens the front door to welcome “Elijah.”
She opens the door to the past and walks right through. She finds herself in a Polish village in 1942. It’s not Passover in 1942, but there is a celebration going on just the same. A wedding in the village! Tragically this wedding never occurs. The Nazis take everyone away; everyone is relocated.
Hannah (Chaya) makes new friends, and fights to survive. It won’t be easy. This new life, this 1942 life, becomes oh-so-painfully real to her. She knows what’s coming. She knows about the death camps. She knows about how many Jews were killed, how many never came out of the camps, how many families were torn apart. She knows and can do nothing to prevent it from happening. She’s powerless, but, her words still have power. Her words can shape stories that give hope and courage and strength to her fellow sufferers.
The story ends beautifully in my opinion. It may be an intense read, but it’s worth it.