Book Title: The Devil’s Arithmetic.
Author: Jane Yolen.
Publication Date: November 1988.
Rating (Out of Five Stars): 4.5.
I should preface that I have always been fascinated by Nazi Germany and the happenings in Concentration Camps. Perhaps this is a morbid fascination and it’s not a fascination that I can explain very easily. It’s just there, something that is never ending and will randomly catch my heart once more. It’s been a topic of interest for me ever since 6th grade when we began learning about in History class. Because of this, I have read many stories set during this time period (which I am actually hoping to reread and will likely post book reviews of them after I finish them).
Admittedly, I actually watched this movie before I ever read the book. In my Sophomore year of high school, we read Night by Elie Wiesel and then we watched The Devil’s Arithmetic. I personally wish we had read this book and then watched the movie, not because I disliked Night because on the contrary, Night is actually one of my favorite novels but simply because it would have made more sense to me to read the book and then watch the movie.
After reading The Book Thief, which was one of the first book reviews that I ever posted on here (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak : Book Review), I actually stepped away from the entire genre for quite some time. I had been so badly disappointed by the novel that I simply stepped away but like every other time, there was just something that brought me back. Perhaps it was this story that kept running through my head, a story that I desperately want to write, or perhaps it was something else but regardless, I was brought back to it.
Which means I was on a new hunt for a novel, and I remember watching this very movie and I became curious about the book itself. This is not a comparison of the movie, mostly because I don’t totally remember what actually happened in the movie but I will be making a review about this book, which is what you’re reading right now.
The story is about a young girl in the modern time who is sick of remembering and doesn’t understand the significance of Seder or why it even matters and definitely didn’t understand why her family acted the way they did until she opens a metaphorical door, looking for a religious figure from the Jewish religion and finds herself transported back in time to 1942 and eventually finds herself in Auschwitz after attempting to attend a wedding.
The story was detailed and explained many things, it was interesting to see how people reacted to this young girl and her attempts of telling the future and how nobody seemed to understand and I was amused by the fact that she told stories from the present time and passed them off as movies that actually existed.
But more specifically, I liked the reality of the situation. You had Riftka, who was clearly meant to be the voice of reason. She knew how to survive and she was the character placed to explain what was happening and while this is common in many novels, especially in one of these novels where things need to be explained to a degree, I felt like she genuinely belonged in the story and that she was used for more than just explanation which was refreshing.
I found myself entranced throughout the entire study, not being able to take me eyes off the text and anytime I was forced to, I would think about the novel constantly until I could come back. I wanted more to be explained, I wanted the story to be longer, I wanted the story to never end.
It entranced me until the very last word and it was absolutely fascinating, and mostly I never wanted the story to end. That story could have been three times the length and I still would have been fascinated. The way the girl’s mind worked and how the author decided to handle the fact that she was from another time and even the idea of making her incredibly sick beforehand so that her family would right it off as being sick was fascinating.
I was also surprised during many moments, especially in relation to the children. Essentially, and I don’t consider this to be a spoiler, children under the age of 14 were not allowed to live on the camp and so every time the commander came, children who were clearly incredibly younger than 14 would have to hide in the trash. The most surprising part is the fact that the guards were in on it and would even try and warn the children that they needed to hide and while nothing was done if the child was found outside of the trash, they would still try and help by warning them which was surprising. Nazis are portrayed as being fully evil, in both history and literature and yet you had this moment where Nazis were helping children survive.
A rare moment of humanity that surprised me but also pulled me into the story further.
I would have been this novel a five, as I believe it possibly deserved it but I do feel there are moments that they could have spread out. I would have loved to see a lengthened conversation between her and her Aunt Eva once she returned home and I felt that the moments right before she returned were very fast paced and could have benefited from slowing down a bit.