2/23/2011

Milkweed

     This is one of my favorite books about World War II, and I think I cried when I finished it. Okay, I cried. It’s told from the perspective of a little kid who has nobody, and lives on the streets. He doesn’t remember where he came from, and he doesn’t know what his name is, but he thinks it must be Stopthief, because that’s what people yell at him. One day Uri finds him, and takes him under his wing. Uri tells him that his name is Misha Pilsudski, and makes up a story for him about where he came from. From then on, he lives with Uri and his friends, all of whom belong nowhere, just like Misha. He makes friends with a wealthy little girl named Janina, and comes to her house to eat her birthday cake with her. Janina confides that she and her family are Jews, and as a result of that fact, it is not long before they are sent to live in the Jewish ghetto along with Misha and Uri, and everyone else people don’t want. Times are rather turbulent and confused, of course, and things are even more confused seen through the eyes of Janina and Misha, who don’t understand. The only thing Misha understands is that he doesn’t want to be a Nazi anymore. Once he wanted his own pair of shiny jackboots, just like them, but now he’s pretty sure he hates Nazis. The story reaches a climax on the day when the trains come to take away the Jews, and everyone who lives in the ghetto. Janina and her family disappear on the trains, and Misha wanders down the tracks after them. Eventually he runs into a farmer, and he tells the farmer that he’s a filthy son of Abraham, and that the trains left him behind when they took everybody to the ovens. The farmer doesn’t care or understand, but he takes Misha to his farm where he forces him to work for three years. When Misha finally gets away, the war is over, but he still lives in the past. Even as a man, when he’s immigrated to the U.S. he still stands on street corners babbling about Uri and Janina to anyone who will listen. And that’s when I cried. It was so sad, because he was just an ordinary little kid. Just a little kid. That’s all the book was about, it wasn’t about a hero or a brave escape, it was just about people who got stuck in it all. And that’s why this is a book I’ll remember; partly because it’s superbly written, but mostly because it’s about people who were just people.

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