Friday, October 7, 2011

Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

I have such a hard time picking up stories set during WWII. I just do. I know BAD things are going to happen and I just don’t want to go there. I get so depressed reading them and having to re-experience all the horrible things human beings do to each other. And it doesn’t help that so many of them are really well written and so compelling that I can’t even put them down. This one was no exception (and if you're wondering why I picked it up despite all that, it is because this is a possible Mock Printz title).

Karl doesn’t consider himself Jewish. His family are atheists, he does not go to a religious school, he doesn’t even look “Jewish” which allows him a level of religious anonymity that he embraces. But when the Nazi party rises to power things begin to change. At first Karl embraces the changes, he even agrees with some of the things said about Jewish people.

This, of course, all comes to a stop when he is identified as a Jew at school. He is taunted and bullied and he is enraged and confused. After a particularly horrible incident, fate steps in the form of Max Schmeling, a boxing champion, who agrees to train Karl in exchange for a portrait that Karl’s father owns. Karl’s boxing training is used effectively as a metaphor throughout the book.

We get to experience the tightening up of German society through the eyes of Karl who is a very observant teen even if he doesn’t understand all the complexities at first glance. His experience is juxtaposed with his sister’s much harsher treatment as a kid who looked “Jewish.” This adds to his guilt and confusion. As do the various responses to Nazi propaganda from the people around him. What becomes of people you thought were friends? Who can you trust? Who is honorable? And what would you do when faced with these difficult choices?

In the book Karl is an artist with an interest in cartooning and his cartoons are interspersed throughout the book. I have to be honest, they were my least favorite part of the book. I think that his interest in cartooning would have been equally effective without the drawings. Or maybe I just have drawing fatigue. Either way, I wasn’t impressed.

The secondary characters were really good. I especially enjoyed the Countess and the men at the boxing gym. Friends come in unlikely places.

An excellent historical fiction.

Book Source = Tayshas Review Copy

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