The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard shows us the Warsaw Ghetto thru the eyes of a young (10?) Jewish boy named Aron. Aron has always been considered a bit peculiar, even (or especially) by his own family. He learned to try to remain as invisible as possible, a skill that would serve him well when his family is forced into the Ghetto. He becomes friends with a small group of kids who work within the black market of stealing and selling and smuggling. Friends is perhaps too strong a work, Aron’s family life clearly has affected his ability to make personal connections. Eventually, Aron is abandoned by his family and is rescued by Dr. Janus Korczak ( a true, historical doctor) who runs an orphanage that was also forced into the Ghetto.
There are no surprises as to where this book is going. Still, the horror of this real chapter in history is a riveting read as told by Aron. He is a loner, a survivor, an acceptor, an avoider, a victim, and, in his own way perhaps, a hero.
Shepard’s writing is fabulous. I agree with one of the book blurbs that begins, “Why isn’t Jim Shepard more famous?” Aron’s entire philosophy of life can be summed up by this:
“Everyone starts out with big plans,” I told him. “Then they figure out that’s not how things are going be.”
But later, Shepard shows us the hope that all mankind has for their children. The hope that maybe it’s the children who can make things better. Dr. Korczak has asked Aron and some other orphans to write letters asking for money and food for the orphanage. Aron is relating what Korczak told them to write :
He said to write that there was no food for them and a lot of the smaller children had stopped growing. That nightmares and weeping were their permanent experiences. And yet his teaching had been borne out, since when the adult community wouldn’t provide a stable or rational environment, the children could create for themselves a world that was functional and tender. I wrote that sentence twice, I was so taken by it.
Not only is this book great historical fiction, but it also forced its way into my thinking about the present. I can’t actually imagine what life must be like for all the thousands of refugee children around the world today. I can only hope that they are able to create for themselves a world that is, in some small way, functional and tender.