“[The Book of Aron is] a masterpiece…. A story of such startling candor about the complexity of heroism that it challenges each of us to greater courage.” —The Washington Post
Today is Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—and all around the world men and women are taking time to reflect on the atrocities committed against the Jewish people, among others, during the Holocaust. Memorial candles are being lit and the Kaddish—the prayer for the departed—is being recited. It is a day for mourning the approximately six million Jews who perished during this dark period of history, and a reminder of the harm that humanity is capable of inflicting upon itself.
Each year there are fewer and fewer survivors to share their stories with the world, but thankfully new generations continue to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive through their writing. Jim Shepard is one such author. In his latest novel, The Book of Aron, Shepard depicts life in a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, a setting that has received less literary attention than the extensively depicted concentration camps. The book follows young Aron, an eight-year-old Jewish boy coming of age in German-occupied Poland. He and his family struggle to survive as restrictions on Jews become harsher and more absurd. As Aron describes it, “Proclamations kept appearing in the newspapers and my father kept reading them to the family, always first announcing, ‘And under the heading of Things Get Worse.’”
Aron gradually adapts to his new environment, learning to smuggle in much-needed goods for his family. He eventually comes into contact with Janusz Korczak, a character based on a real-life doctor who ran an orphanage in the ghetto and managed to earn the respect of several Germans. A tireless advocate for the children in his care, Korczak did what he could to alleviate the suffering of his charges and captured the world’s attention in the process. In between writing beseeching letters and countless hours spent pleading for food and money, the doctor also put on plays with his young orphans, bringing a modicum of joy to the people of the otherwise desolate ghetto. When his fame brought him several opportunities to escape, Korczak refused to leave the children behind.
Aron’s relationship with Korczak marks a turning point in the young boy’s life. Korczak takes a liking to his newest charge, bringing him along on his begging circuits and engaging him in philosophical conversations on sleepless nights. As he and Aron grow closer, the young smuggler is forced to face questions of morality in a world where it has virtually ceased to exist.
Shepard’s acclaimed novel will take you on an emotional journey through the bleak landscape of the Holocaust. Guided by extensive research, the author brings his characters to life with mesmerizing emotional intensity and crushing humanity, making this a great selection for you and your book club.