The Devil’s Arithmetic is pretty straight-forward. A girl named Hannah is complaining about the need to “remember” for Passover. At Seder, Hannah opens the door for Elijah, and finds herself transported into the body of a Jewish girl named Chaya in a shtetl the 1940s. Even with her foreknowledge of the events of the Holocaust, Hannah is powerless to stop soldiers and they collect her and her village and take them to a camp.
The majority of the book entails Hannah’s day to day activities in the camp, and her observance of the suffering of those around her. It’s hard to read, obviously, as all accounts of the Holocaust are. But it’s an important lesson, to Hannah and to the reader, about the importance of remembering such things so that history cannot repeat itself.
I guess this is a book a lot of people read in school, but I missed it somehow. Having read it as an adult, it’s still very effective and I can see how this would make a good novel for young adults to read during a course on the Holocaust. Watching the events from the perspective of a young girl would make them particularly disturbing to a young reader, I think.
Rebecca, or Becca, is the youngest of three sisters, and has always been captivated by her grandmother Gemma’s unusual version of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty. Even after her older sisters got sick of hearing it, she would ask her grandmother to tell it. So when her grandmother claims to actually have been Briar Rose on her deathbed, making Becca promise to find out the truth about her family background and the castle she came from, the rest of the family, especially her sisters, are scornful and disbelieving. As Becca starts looking into her grandmother’s past, she realises that no one in the family really knew who Gemma was, or where she came from.
Aided by the handsome editor at the independent newspaper where she works, Becca starts looking into her grandmother’s past, and the claims that her story of Briar Rose is true. Her quest to find her family’s origins take her to first through refugee records in the US, then to Europe, and Poland, and the remains of the concentration camps of the Second World War. More on my blog.