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The Devil's Arithmetic (1988)

by Jane Yolen

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Hannah resents the traditions of her Jewish heritage until time travel places her in the middle of a small Jewish village in Nazi-occupied Poland.

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Hanna resents traditions of her Jewish heritage until time travel places her in the middle of a small Jewish village in Nazi-occupied Poland. ( )
  Gmomaj | Nov 21, 2023 |
I've read a few too many of books using the same time travel device to highlight a horrible moment in history, and the plot here is fairly obvious and predictable since it's aimed at children, but even as I cynically held those thoughts in my head the ending still grabbed me by the throat and shook me. Can't argue with results.

I had not heard of this 1988 book previously and only picked it up as homework of sorts for a 2022 book I do want to read, Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King. That book is about censorship and book banning in schools, and apparently The Devil's Arithmetic has been challenged for a variety of reasons over the years since its publication. Having read it, I can't imagine what people are objecting to, making me even more curious to get to King's book. ( )
  villemezbrown | Apr 9, 2023 |
I couldn't put this down. It's a stark difference to read Shoah fiction by an actual Jewish author versus one who isn't. See, this book versus "Number the Stars" as an example. This book has time travel as a huge trope and plot point. Usually I dislike time travel, but here--I was going to read the book because I was curious. Hannah being in present time takes up nearly half the novel, but it is a solid foundation to contrast with what's to come. I thought the flipping back and forth in time via memories and how they started to blend was interesting and done in a refreshing way. The way she socialized with others as a result had me intrigued. It didn't feel cheap. It felt set up well and the author was doing something with it. She foreshadows well, and uses subtle details to paint a rich picture. The ending was absolutely chilling--the final thing that occurs at the camp. My eyes were huge as I was reading it, the girls walking in, and I was absolutely biting my nails. I had no idea where the author was going to go with it.

I just...want to mention the...title of the book and references that were made to it. I thought it was done well. I like when titles are referred to in books, and especially if it's subtle, as it was here. The devil in Judaism is not the personification of all evil. It's not viewed the way Christianity does at all. Satan is literally a fallen angel, and it's a job description really. "The fallen angel." "The secretary." That sort of thing. MyJewishLearning explains this much better. This is something that was slipped into the book for Christian audiences, and I get why. I set the book down so I could think about this for awhile.

Over and over, I thought of how much violence had been cut out. Yolen cuts right to the aftermath and doesn't spell out a lot of things, and the horror is absolutely there. There's horrid-ness she doesn't explore as this is a children's book, but it permeated the book. I imagined it taking place just right over there, off-page, and was miserable. Hannah goes back to modern time at a point, and I cried when she has a brief conversation with a family member. So this book made me cry. I'm adjusting to my emotions around that. What a journey! What a way to write about this. I'm so glad I got to read it, and the emotions that did come up. It was written in 1988, but could have been written in modern-day. Yolen's a skilled writer. I hope this is widely read. ( )
  iszevthere | Aug 15, 2022 |
I had originally read this, I think, back in junior high. I only remembered the title. Overall, it wasn't bad and if you remember that it's a thirteen year old girl who doesn't know much about the Holocaust. Yes, it's a made up camp but some of the camps she memntions (Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka) were actually pure death camps/extermination camps while Auschwitz, Dauchau, and the like were work/concentration camps or a mix of both concentration/death camps. A good work of fiction that deals with the death camps is "The Commandant of Lubisec" which is a fictional camp and told in the style of a documentary. ( )
  pacbox | Jul 9, 2022 |
Everything a book about the Holocaust should be: brutal and important.

Appropriately, I finished this book about the necessity of remembering on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. ( )
  hissingpotatoes | Dec 28, 2021 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jane Yolenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cieslawski, SteveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenblat, BarbaraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my Yolen grandparents, who brought their family over in the early 1900's, second class, not steerage, and to my Berlin grandparents, who came over close to that same time and settled in Virginia. We were the lucky ones. This book is a memorial for those who were not.

And for my daughter, Heidi Elisabet Stemple, whose Hebrew name is Chaya -- pronounced with a gutteral ch as Hi'-ya -- which means life.

And with special thanks to Barbara Goldin and Deborah Brodie, who were able to ask questions of survivors that I was unable to ask and pass those devastating answers on to me.
c. 1 In honor of Temple Israel by LJCRS 1990
First words
"I'm tired of remembering," Hannah said to her mother as she climbed into the car.
She has come to love her next bowl of soup more.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Hannah resents the traditions of her Jewish heritage until time travel places her in the middle of a small Jewish village in Nazi-occupied Poland.

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This follows the story of a young girl who experiences in her head what her aunt and her aunt experienced during the Holocaust. She gets to see the horrors of what happened to appreciate what her family always celebrates.
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