Friday 30 March 2012

90. The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail

The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail
Published March 2012 Black Dog Books

From the publisher:

Hanna is a talented pianist, and the protected second daughter of middle class Hungarian Jews. Relatively late in World War II the Budapest Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Hanna and her mother and sister are separated from her father. Her mother becomes increasingly mentally ill until she too is taken away somewhere. Her sister Erika is slowly starving to death. Hanna is quite a naive 15-year-old but when presented with the opportunity to play piano for the camp commander, she is desperate to be chosen. She goes each day under guard to the commander's house and stands waiting in case the commander should want some music. Also living in the house is the commander's son, Karl. A handsome young man who seems completely disengaged from what is happening around him. Hanna hates him as he sits drawing in the music room. But the longer Hanna goes to the house, the more she realises there are other things going on. Secret things. Karl may not be the person she thinks he is. Before she knows it she has fallen in love with the wrong boy.

There is no denying that there have been many stories written about the holocaust for teenagers and children as well as for adults.  I am always interested in why the author has chosen to write a holocaust story, and in the case of Suzy Zail’s connection with the holocaust is that he father was an Auschwitz survivor.  He didn’t tell her until she was an adult, and he was dying.  He though the best way to deal with the horror was to build anew life and try to forget the past.  His daughter Suzy believes the only way to ensure it wouldn’t happen again is to keep talking about it.  And after reading this book I have to agree with her.
I have read a lot of holocaust stories in my lifetime, but I will admit to not picking one up in a while.  This is the story of Hanna Mendel, a Jew from Budapest who finds herself and her family removed from the ghetto and herded onto a train.  A train that takes them to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Hanna was only 15, but as she disembarks from the train, one of the prisoner unloading the luggage asks her how old she is, and when she tells him 15, he tells her that she is 16, she must be 16.  This man saved Hanna’s life because the children and sick were sent one way and those able to work another.  It’s only later that Hanna finds out what happened to the others.

We get two different sides to camp life in this book.  Hanna is a talented pianist, and when the commandant of the camp, Captain Jager looks for a pianist to entertain his family and his guests, Hanna is the one he chooses.

Hanna’s father was separated from the women in his family, and we don’t see him again after they arrive at the camp.  Hanna’s mother struggles and it isn’t long until she is too weak to work and is sent to the ‘infermary’. Hanna’s sister Erika spends her days doing hard manual labour, becoming weaker and weaker, while Hanna gets to have a shower, put on a clean dress and play the piano, which she loves. 

The tiniest hint of a romance blossoms between Hanna and the Captain's son, Karl.  He is not like his Father, and he sees Hanna as more than just a Jew.  Of course they couldn't have picked a worse time or place to even think about love.

When the Russian army come to release the prisoners, Hanna is at the Captain's house looking for Karl, but he and his Father have left, when she gets back to camp, the prisoners, including her sister are gone.  You will have to read the book to find out if Hanna and her sister are reunited :)

Who will like this book: Girls age 14+
Read it if you like: true stories about survival

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