The first chapter of Jeffery S. Markovitz’s new novel contains just two words: He died.
This short statement is startling, but not altogether surprising for a story that centers around the events of World War II-era Germany, when death came for millions. In two short words, Markovitz not only sets the tone for the rest of the novel, but also lays the groundwork for a well-crafted twist at the end. The words reverberate as we are introduced to each new character, wondering, Is it him? Is he the one who died?
In terms of gritty, disturbing realism, Grand Theft Auto has nothing on The Book of Aron. Told in the straightforward voice of a child who understands harshness and guilt from the earliest age, The Book of Aron gives an unflinching view of life in the Warsaw Ghetto as well as what it was like to be a child of deep poverty in the years before childhood was deemed a special and protected space. It is a tale of modernization and industrialization as well as a Holocaust tale.
Novelist Jim Shephard tells the true story of Janusz Korczak, a Jewish-Polish doctor and educator who is heroic both for his revolutionary ideas of treating children with respect and dignity as well as for the work he did running an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto, but he filters it through the eyes of one of the children he helped. When Shephard found Aron’s voice, a voice which has the cadence of a Yiddish curse, he found a way to tell a hero’s story while insisting the hero was quite fallible and quite human.