Go to Homepage   Jane Yolen: The Devil's Arithmetic


Crescent Blues Book ViewsPenguin USA/Puffin (Paperback), ISBN: 0140345353

Originally published in hardcover by Viking Press in October 1988, reprinted over seven times since 1990 and scheduled to be re-released in hardcover in April 2004, The Devil's Arithmetic proves a remarkable and enduring piece of Holocaust children's literature.

Book: jane yolen, the devil's arithmetic
A highly controversial subject for children's literature, Holocaust stories sometimes cause critics to question whether the Holocaust should be remembered and why children should remember it. Jane Yolen answers that question, and the answer packs a punch.

Twelve-year old Hannah can't understand the significance of Grandma Belle's Passover Seder tradition. In addition, she doesn't understand why, in 1988, her family needs to remember the past. Chosen to perform the Seder ritual of opening of the door to the Prophet Elijah, Hannah reluctantly obeys. Likely as a result of her indifference to the act, the open door transports Hannah to 1942 Poland, a time of great significance in Jewish history.

Awakening in a strange bed in a small village, Hannah finds herself transformed into a young girl named "Chaya," which means "life." Recently recovered from illness and suffering from the death of her parents, Chaya now lives with her Aunt Gitl and Uncle Schmuel. Able to recall her present, Hannah/Chaya tries to convince Gitl and Schmuel of her true identity. However, when the Nazis raid the village during her Uncle Schmuel's wedding ceremony, Chaya realizes how much the past matters. Only Hannah knows the Nazis lie when they promise relocation Book: jane yolen, boots and the seven leaguers
of the Jews until the war ends. Only Hannah knows of gas chambers disguised as showers. Only Hannah knows that six million European Jews will die. She realizes, too, how much this past will affect her future.

As Chaya endures the past -- a past suffered by her own relatives, she realizes what it means to have been a Jew during World War II. She understands what it means to die and what it means to live. Most of all, she understands how important it is to remember:

"You -- you must remember, too, so that whoever of us survives this place will carry the message into that future; that we will survive; that what happens here must never happen again."

The Devil's Arithmetic attempts to educate, makes sense of and provide understanding for children of a chaotic period in history that makes no sense and bears little understanding. In doing so, Yolen provides hope -- hope that through this understanding of humanity such an unspeakable horror shall never, ever again occur.

This book serves as one of the most enlightening and worthwhile pieces of Holocaust children's literature you could ever hope to find. Interested readers may also wish to compare and contrast it with Yolen's Briar Rose which provides an insightful look at how a survivor might deal with a past shaped by the Holocaust.

Lynne Marie Pisano

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