Top positive review
Powerful book about experiencing the Holocaust
Reviewed in the United States on May 31, 2021
Although there are many Holocaust books out there that are in the young adult genre (Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank come to mind), I had not heard of The Devil’s Arithmetic until a friend mentioned it.
In the novel, Hannah, an American Jewish teenager who is indifferent and apathetic towards her Jewish family’s past, is transported back to the 1940s to experience one of the most tragic, painful, and horrific points in history.
I felt like this book was an immensely powerful read, one that moves very quickly and one in which the reader can get into the head of the protagonist as she travels back into a dark time in history. As one from the future, Hannah knows all too painfully the horrors that await the Jewish people and those in the concentration camps.
The Devil’s Arithmetic works and fits into several genres. It is a fantasy in which a young girl must travel back in time to witness and be part of her family’s suffering to fully understand and to never forget. But, obviously, the book, while tame in its graphicness, is a very realistic portrayal of such atrocities experienced. And, while the names of the places have been changed, this does not deter from the powerfully realistic images: the awful conditions in the cattle cars, the dehumanization of individuals, the shaving of heads, the separation of loved ones, friends, and families, the lack of necessities like food, water, and proper clothing, the selection of victims.
I highlighted a quote in the afterward by the author Jane Yolen that I believe eloquently sums up the entire experience of this book:
“Fiction cannot recite the numbing numbers, but it can be that witness, that memory. A storyteller can attempt to tell the human tale, can make a galaxy out of chaos…”
This point is illustrated in Hannah’s physical and emotional journey, and spiritual transformation that she must go through.
This edition also contains an extremely helpful glossary for Jewish terms and expressions as well as an afterward by the author.
In my opinion, The Devil’s Arithmetic is powerful portrayal of a dark time in history, and it is definitely a book for anyone interested in young adult books about the Holocaust.