26 October 2011
Life affirming family story? check
A pet sheep called Rachel? check
Clothes being fashioned from other clothes? check
Post-war Europe? check
Life in a converted rail car? check
I mean hello, what isn't to love about this book?
When I was in grade school I read The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert. I have no recollection of why I checked it out of the library years ago but it has stayed close to my heart in the 32 years since I read it. I thought of it recently and decided to see if I could find a copy online. Out of print and seemingly scarce, I found a few copies around $45 but the prices went up quickly from there. Maybe I could find a copy in the underfunded DC Public Library system. And lo and behold there it was, the only library copy in DC at my neighborhood library.
Being in the juvenile section of the library was trippy enough but to find the exact edition that I read all those years ago was fantastic. Even the pages smelled the same as they did when I was 10.
So would The Ark live up to my childhood recollections? Yes. I loved this book as much now as I did then. Except now I am also fascinated by the fact that the WWII refugees in this case were from Silesia and Pomerania who may have indeed fought on the side of the Nazis, although it isn't explicit, and the author does take a moment to mention that the family was not sympathetic to the government. On the one hand it is a little hard to feel much sympathy for the deprivations suffered by these refugees given the horror that had so recently been suffered by six million Jews. On the other hand...well it is hard to come up with another hand, I have never really read anything about how life in German attempted to get back to "normal" after the war and the Holocaust. I have certainly read all about the big stories of war criminals and such, but never anything about the average German trying not only to survive but somehow make sense of what had gone on in the Fatherland. Right or wrong these issues don't play much of a role in this book.
I really wish this book was in print so I could send out a few copies into the blogosphere for review. I think many of you would enjoy it, but I am also curious how it should be approached vis-a-vis the Nazi question above. And most of all, I think this would make a great Persephone re-issue. It is certainly a more interesting children's book than the Persephone-published The Runaway.