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.
You can buy it here:
Written by Pascal Mercier, "Night Train to Lisbon" takes place in Bern, Switzerland, where protagonist Raimund Gregorius, lives the same, perfunctory, life every day. Raimond teaches at a secondary school, where he is an expert in archaic languages. He is well-read, intelligent and very well respected, but his life is defined and in many ways, constrained by his profession. Until one day, must go. He must take the night train to Lisbon. And he does.
Gregorius is compelled to go to Lisbon to learn about another man’s life and how different each life can be. He is led to discoveries that drastically impact his perspective and knowledge of the world. His journey to Lisbon is based off his prevailing question, “Was it possible that the best way to make sure of yourself was to know and understand someone else?”
Although Amadeu Prado - the man Gregorius seeks to discover- is dead, Gregorius finds himself in Lisbon, discovering the history of the Salzarian Dictatorship and the intricate, but also painful, relationships Prado had during his lifetime. He realizes that Prado was a man who was deeply questioned because he questioned all fundamental pillars. To some, Prado was thought of as a “godless priest,” to others, he was considered an intellectual and an activist whose “religion” was practicing loyalty.
Throughout the book, Gregorius reads Prado’s philosophical letters. They convey the value of religion and religion’s ability to create beauty and community. The letters also criticize the establishment, such as is the case with the one below:
“I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need their beauty and grandeur. I need their imperious silence. I need it against the witless bellowing of the barracks yard and the witty chatter of the yes-men. I want to hear the rustling of the organ, this deluge of ethereal notes. I need it against the shrill farce of marches…. I revere the word of God for I love its poetic force. I loathe the word of God for I hate its cruelty. The love is a difficult love for it must incessantly separate the luminosity of the words and the violent verbal subjugation by a complacent God. The hatred is a difficult hatred for how can you allow yourself to hate words that are part of the melody of life in this part of the world? Words that taught us early on what reverence is?”
Gregorius and Prado both represent man’s search for purpose. Maybe we find purpose in other people’s discoveries. But, wholeness is found through the immense depth achieved only through experience.
Although the book comments and questions the meaning of life, individual purpose and value, it also criticizes politics and questions religion all the while placing value in moral establishments. As an individual who aligns with agnosticism, "Night Train to Lisbon," perfectly described many of my feelings and verbalized how religion is something that can drastically add so much value to this world, but can also cause so much pain and ignorance. "Night Train to Lisbon," if anything, will leave you questioning the bigger picture.
And if we have left you hungry or curious about Portugal, check out Portuguese recipes here:
The Wave is a novel that is very relevant to this day and age of populism. Set in the United States during the 1980’s, this true story demonstrates just how fast a wave of populism can occur. It serves as a reminder that waves, such as the Nazism, did not begin with the horrible, infamous actions for which they are remembered, rather with words.
As most well written stories are, this book offers an ever-relevant lesson: stand up for what you believe is right. Do not simply comply with the masses. Do not permit or even bare witness to injustice taking place merely because it isn’t happening to you – because sooner or later, you will likely be the next victim. The climax of the plot best demonstrates this lesson, leaving the characters and its readers, humbled.
Therefore, I encourage you to read this short, but potent story. My recommendations for you would be to stay informed, to constantly question things, and to be on the lookout for what waves could be next.