The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

The Book of Aron
Jim Shepard
Random House 2015

ISBN 978-1-101-87431-8

Fiction is a world of imagination, yet Jim Shepard’s haunting novel, “The Book of Aron,” evolves around a real-world experience. In this case, Shepard retells the familiar horrors of Hitler’s genocide against Jewish people via invented personal experiences of a young boy, so vividly, the book is an agonizing read.

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“. . . to remind us not to forget.”

When the Germans invaded Poland, Aron and his group of friends encounter the ugliness of World War II when they sneak through barricades in search of food. As the war proceeds, Aron witnesses the disappearances of his father and brothers, and sat for days with his mother as she died of typhus. Then, forced to release information to the police, Aron accepts responsibility for the shooting death of his friend Lutek. Friendless and homeless, he wanders Warsaw’s streets in search of food, hiding in stairways during curfews, until rescued by Dr. Janus Korcazk, an actual character who during the war operated an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Hungry, and with frostbitten feet, Aron tells Korcazk, “I don’t have a home.” Korcazk responds, “Well, then, we’ll have to think abut adding you to our little group,” amid protests from the other children in the shelter barely clinging to life. Every day Aron witnesses death in the orphanage. When his feet have healed, he joins Korcazk in daily walks along the street begging for food. Finally, on August 5, 1942, Korcazk and all the children in the orphanage are forced to march toward the train headed to Treblinka, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

Shepard’s historical novel is based on extensive research on Korczak’s life, personal diaries, archives, and personal stories of survivors, which explains the thin line in this book between fiction and the real world. This fictional story adds another level to the atrocities we know about so as to remind us not to forget.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla