cover image We Were Not Like Other People

We Were Not Like Other People

Ephraim Sevela, Efraim Sevela. HarperCollins Publishers, $13.95 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-06-025507-7

The fearsomeness of war is fully realized in this intensely moving novel of the World War II experiences of a Soviet boy. The nameless Jewish narrator's secure life is shattered at age nine, when his cavalry officer father is taken away during Stalin's purges of 1937. Years of nightmarish wandering follow, first with his mother and sister and then alone. He is nursed from a serious illness by his old geography teacher and his wife, only to witness the latter's subsequent death. More almost unimaginable privation follows: internment at a vocational ``school'' where starved orphans fall into death-dealing machines; a frozen ride through the steppes in an empty coal car. A stint as a farm laborer in Siberia brings material--if not emotional--relief. The now-teenaged narrator then goes off to the German front as a colonel's would-be adoptive son, only to be orphaned afresh at war's end. The protagonist makes his way to his grandfather's homestead, where, against all odds, his whole family eventually reunites. Sevela's ( Why There Is No Heaven on Earth ) fresh prose is so heartfelt and immediate, it almost seems not to be in translation. The book's somber subject is best appreciated by mature young adults. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)