Friday, June 16, 2006

First book: Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

208 pages, read from 11:45 to 1:35.

Like the tree that grows in Brooklyn, milkweed is a tenacious plant, the only hint of green managing to survive in the desert of the Warsaw Ghetto. The narrator of this story is also tenacious, even as he is buffeted by forces beyond his control, like a milkweed pod blown about by the wind. His first memory is of running; the only name he knows for himself is Stopthief. When he's adopted by another homeless orphan named Uri, his first name and background are bestowed up him: Misha Pilsudski, a Gypsy boy with seven brothers and five sisters.

For a time, Misha lives a comfortable underground life, thieving with Uri and a group of other boys, always sharing some of what he steals with the local orphanage. Then he befriends a girl named Janina Milgrom, a girl who lives in a nice home and wears beautiful shiny shoes... for a while. Janina and her family are marched to the Ghetto shortly before Misha himself is forced there--Uri, with red hair and a genuis for conformity, manages to escape--and when Misha, a skilled smuggler, supports them with stolen food he becomes part of their family and gains another identity: a Jewish boy named Misha Milgrom.

Even when Uri reappears with a message--"Do not be here when the trains come... Run. Don't stop running"; even when Janina's father begs them both to run away from the Ghetto--Misha clings to his new family and the life they know. But he can't control the forces that will once again blow them like the wind.

Even aside from the ugliness it depicts, Milkweed is a challenging story. Although occasionally the narrator steps outside of the events to comment as an adult, most of it is told in the voice of the uncomprehending, gullible boy he was, who is reliving pieces of story barely understood, sometimes barely understandable. But it well repays the reader who commits to it, and comes away with a new sense of what it means to live through such times. I was left in tears by the book's end, in which the adult Misha embraces the final pieces of his identity.


Anonymous Anonymous bligged...

This was a wonderful book that left my with a great sense on how life was during the holocaust. At many times the book became very hard to understand but i fought through it and learned alot. I strongly recomend this book to anyone thinking about reading it. The book should recieve five stars.

8/04/2010 3:14 PM  

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