Monday, August 14, 2006

A Feast Day and a Book Recommendation

Today is the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was executed by the Nazis. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan who led an interesting life, including founding a monastery in Nagasaki, before he ran afoul of the National Socialists and ended up in Auschwitz. At Auschwitz, when ten prisoners were selected for death by dehydration and starvation in retaliation for an escape, Maximilian Kolbe voluntarily took the place of one of the selected, because that man was married with children. You can read more of his inspiring story here and here.

This is a good place for a book recommendation I've been meaning to make: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr. I came across this three or four weeks ago while looking for another book in the juvenile Ks. I'd never heard of it before, but I was intrigued by the title and took it home. It turned out to be better than what I'd been looking for. (Escape to Witch Mountain, FWIW.) The book is written for children, but it never talks down to them and is such a well written account of refugee life that it will appeal to adults. Briefly, it is about a little German girl named Anna, whose father is a prominent writer who opposes the Nazis. On the eve of Hitler's being elected to power, they leave the country before their passports can be taken and Dad imprisoned; they think they will be able to go home again but are soon disabused of this idea. The story is about how the family must adapt to refugee life, first in Sweden (where at least they speak the same language) and then in Paris. In addition to language and cultural problems, the family must for the first time learn to get along with little money and no housekeeper. Their situation may be rooted in a particular historical time, but their efforts to make a life in a new and strange place could apply to people in many different situations and time periods. The details of the way they adapt will interest a variety of people; personally I found the process of language acquisition especially interesting. It all rang very true to life, possibly because the story was at least partly autobiographical. I also liked the illustrations; in fact, the only thing I think isn't particularly good about the book is the title, but I suppose that has the virtue of making people notice it.

For the "Knitting in Fiction" file, there's an amusing passage where the mother, who'd never been trained in any kind of housewifely arts, tries to knit a sweater to save money. She knits very tightly, stabbing the wool with the needles so that every stitch is an attack. (It sounds like the way Akane Tendo cooks.) The final result is a functional sweater, but one that looks as if it's made of tweed.

Anyway, the ISBN is 0698115899. It was originally published in the early 1970s and reissued in 1997 and seems to be in print, so I encourage people to buy it or look for it at the library. Caution to people buying the book for young children: Although the focus is refugee life, there are a couple of bits that could (and should) be upsetting. The suicide of a gentle, harmless family friend is touched on briefly, but it is given in such terms that many small children would not understand what had happened, only that the poor man had died. The most disturbing part of the book is when Anna overhears the story of a distinguished professor who was chained up and driven mad by the Nazis. It disturbed her and it should disturb everybody. May God have mercy on us all for allowing such things to happen.

(Now I think of it, maybe it's not coincidence that the Divine Mercy chaplet came into being in the 1930s.)

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