The Devil’s Arithmetic

The plot of the book by Jane Yolen first, this time: Hannah hates Passover. Hates going to her grandparent’s house. Hates that her Grandpa Will has fits of anger every time he sees pictures or hears about World War II and the “death camps”. But this year, when she opens the door to check for Elijah, she’s transported back. To 1942. Poland. And, yes, she ends up in one of the Nazi concentration camps.

I won’t tell you what happens after that.

Is this a good book? Well, yes. And no. It’s a book everyone should read. Like Schindler’s List is a movie everyone should see. And the Holocaust Museum is a place everyone should visit. It’s a powerfully written story. Simple and not graphic, yet you feel the weight of it. But, is it enjoyable? No. It’s disturbing. It’s haunting. It left me lying awake last night facing all the things I fear, which I usually push back into some far recess of my mind: driving, sending my girls to school, Russell being away, flying, running at 6:30 a.m. by myself, being attacked at night, having burglars break into the house while we’re home… I hate being confronted with the evil in the world. If I didn’t push my fears away — and that takes a lot of effort and prayer sometimes — then I would never leave the house! And I don’t like being confronted with them.

There are people who are inspired by stories of heroism like this one. I’m not one. I’m one of those who, while they acknowledge atrocities like this (and Rawanda and Darfur and Bosnia and…) happen, would much rather believe that the world is a happy place and that people are basically decent and kind. I want to stay in my happy place. And yet, I send my children out into the world, which, whether I like it nor not, is not a happy place. Yes, I’m conflicted by that. And I do try to prepare my children, though talking about strangers and kidnapping and abuse is hard for me (again, problems with confronting the evil in people).

Anyway… enough rambling. You should read this book. Everyone should, if only to acknowledge that these atrocities happened. But, I’m not sure this is one of those books to be read over and over. I know I won’t read it again.


4 thoughts on “The Devil’s Arithmetic

  1. I appriciate your thoughts, Melissa. I had a long period in my life where ALL that I read was WWII related – every teen historial fiction novel of the era that surfaced in my junior high Scholastic Book order. It’s hard to pinpoint what my obsession stemmed from (not from any sort of personal or familial connection) – I think I really needed to read about how some people made it out okay, and how they did that. I don’t know. I really liked Devil’s Arithmatic and it was certainly on the milder end of the distrubing-content-continum. On the other end – left me sobbing and hysterical and still gives me nightmares: Night by Elie Wiesel


  2. I’m going to add it to my list because you said we need to read it, but I probably won’t read it in the winter. I have Angela’s Ashes on my list, but it’s one I keep putting off because I haven’t been brave enough yet. The Devil’s Arithmatic may take more courage than I have, too.


  3. Booklogged — call me inconsitent (I am!), but I just didn’t *get* Angela’s Ashes. Yeah, it was sad — abuse and alcoholism always is — but it didn’t deserve the hype it got.

    I don’t know if it’s better to read depressing books in the winter, when it’s already depressing outside; or in the summer, when you don’t want to be depressed. 🙂


  4. Anonymous says:

    I really think that The Devils Arithmetic is a AWESOME book. I really enjoyed all the parts. Also now I am REALLY interested in the things that happened in the Holocaust. I am really bragging my parents to buy me a copy. When I first read the book I was at school.


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