cover image The War Within These Walls

The War Within These Walls

Aline Sax, trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson, illus. by Caryl Strzelecki. Eerdmans, $17 (176p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5428-5

This fictionalized account of Mordechai Anielewicz and the 1942 Warsaw ghetto uprising will appall and unnerve its readers. The nameless Jewish narrator, an older boy, meets Anielewicz at the very moment his fury has given way to fear. His mother lies dying and his sister has already disappeared. Most of Warsaw’s Jewish population has been sent to the camps, and Nazi soldiers have butchered a Jewish mother and infant before his eyes. Now a stranger appears. “We have weapons,” Anielewicz tells the boy urgently. “But we need more people.” The narrator joins the resistance fighters and tastes their single, fleeting victory, a momentary triumph prefigured in the narrator’s glimpse of a gaily colored parakeet one miserable day. Strzelecki’s monochrome drawings use rich blue-gray lines on cream pages to portray faces furrowed with pain, then builds to nightmarish conflagrations, battles, and corpses. Sometimes a single sentence appears on a blue-gray page, the better to emphasize it: “I had never felt so Jewish before,” the narrator says. Sax’s achievement is to have made every reader feel this with him. Originally published in Belgium. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)