RBook Review: The Devil’s Arithmetic
By Jane Yolen
Hannah thinks tonight Passover Seder will be the same as always. But this year she will be mysteriously transported into the past. Only she knows the horrors that await.
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
Hannah is a fairly typical American pre-teen, embarrassed by her family, feels that religion isn’t really than important and is self-absorbed. Ungraciously, during her family’s celebration of Passover, she goes to open the door for Elijah. At that moment she is mysteriously swept into the past to a small village in Poland. The people surrounding her are patient, loving and living their lives though they cannot understand Hannah. Unexpectedly soldiers are waiting at the small wedding to relocate the jewish families. Hannah instantly recognizes the soldiers are Nazis and that they are all in grave danger. The people of the 1940’s are unable to understand what Hannah is saying and they are all transported to a concentration camp where they struggle through the horrors of survival. Rivka explains how to survive in the camp and the significance of the Devil’s arithmetic. How can anyone value life when no life is seen as precious, but just a number? Ultimately Hannah sacrifices herself to save others, at that moment she is transported back to New Rochelle, New York. At the dinner table Hannah explains what she learned of Rivka, her Aunt Eva; “J is for Jew. And 1 because you were alone, alone of the 8 who had been in your family, though 2 was the actual number of them alive. Your brother was aKommando, one of the Jews forced to tend the ovens, to handle the dead, so he thought he was a 0, she believed when it was all over, she and her brother would be two again.”
I felt this novel was a little slow at the beginning. It explains the tragedy of the lives being wasted through WWII poignantly, and not overly graphic. Even so the reader comes away with a sense of the extreme depravity that was forced upon so many innocent people. Because the main character, Hannah, is a pre-teen we see everything from her perspective. I think it will be easier for girls to connect to the story being told rather than boys. I would feel like this book is appropriate for about 6th grade or 7th grade.