This is one of - if not my favorite book of all time. I read it when I was six years old and I recently read it again at twenty four years old. Throughout the years, my love for this story has neither faltered nor altered. Not only that, but “Number The Stars” is also perhaps the most influential book in my life as I chose to study and to learn about the Holocaust at every given opportunity. My decision to live and to earn my Master’s degree in Berlin, Germany is also no coincidence.
Set in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1943, Lois Lowry's historical fiction is told from the point of view of ten-year old Annemarie Johansen. It is unclear if Annemarie is Christian or not, but she is not Jewish; however, her best friend, Ellen Rosen, is.
The audience is introduced to anti-semitism through the eyes of a young girl, who is not Jewish, but rather is the best friend of someone who is. That being said, there comes a certain innocence with Annemarie’s perspective. But not even her young age can completely shelter Annemarie from what is going on. Not only is she observant that her Jewish neighbours are disappearing, but she also suffered a personal loss - the death of her sister at Nazi hands due to her participation in the Danish resistance.
The climax of the story occurs when Annemarie is faced with a challenge that not many ten year olds would have to face. And she must muster the courage to complete the dangerous task that is asked of her, in order to save Ellen and her family.
Personally, I think this is a wonderful book to introduce a child to such an important, but grave topic. Though the Holocaust and its horrors are not mentioned or really alluded to - the reader is aware that the Nazis instil fear amongst and are targeting Jews - in this case, Ellen and her family- in addition to anyone who resists Nazi rule.
This book definitely resonated with me when I first read it. I was around the same age as Annemarie and my best friend at the time, was also Jewish. And as I did then, I still hope that if I were ever faced with such a crisis, that I would act in the same way that Annemarie did - and do everything in my power to help those in need, especially ones whom I care about.
She was my first heroine. Although it is a historical fiction and Annemarie Johansen didn’t necessarily exist - there were Danes that did help smuggle Jews across the sea to free Sweden. This year, I was able to make that ferry cross - from Denmark to Sweden and there really are no words to describe how much making that exact passage, meant to me. That being said, I strongly recommend that everyone read this quick, but very important story.
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A Little Life is a profound book about friends —the family you choose. Four young men move to New York City shortly after attending college together. Although the lives they lead are drastically different, they are connected by their weekly outings, drinks, and having to make ends meet while living in the city on starting wages, right out of college. As a reader, you are compelled by the complexities of the four friends’ relationships. The group is made up of hopeful actor Willem, who is trying make ends meet, Malcom who is a New York native, born to a wealthy family and lives on the Upper East Side, JB the artist and Jude, the genius who also comes from a traumatizing past.
As the book unfolds, Yanagihara zooms in on the tragedies of Jude’s past. It comes to light that he was thrown in a dumpster as an infant and was raised in a monastery, where he suffered sexual abuse and physical trauma that resulted in long term mental health issues and habitual self-harm. Complex in nature, Jude is a lawyer, a mathematician, and the friend that the others know the least about. As his story comes to the surface, they begin to understand the depth of his life, how he has deeply impacted them, and also how he thinks of his life. One of the most compelling quotes in the novel is,
“It assumes that if you have a conceptual thing named x it must always be equivalent to itself, that it has a uniqueness about it, that it is in possession of something so irreducible that we must assume it is absolutely, unchangeably equivalent to itself for all time, that its very elementalness can never be altered. But it is impossible to prove. Not everyone liked the axiom of equality … but he had always appreciated how elusive it was, how the beauty of the equation itself would always be frustrated by the attempts to prove it. It was the kind of axiom that could drive you mad, that could consume you, that could easily become an entire life.”
A Little Life is a moving novel. I was left with only one thought: every person that I love in my life must know that I love them, but more importantly they must know that they are great.
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