by Robert Sharenow (Harper Collins)
Guest Review by Penny Hochveld, Manager of Exclusive Books, Killarney, Johannesburg
A very different “Holocaust novel” for young people, this one is really ideal for boys aged 13 – 16. It tells the story of young Karl Stern, who is taken under the wing of the champion boxer and German hero, Max Schmeling, and who works hard at re-inventing himself as a boxer to cope with the growing anti-semitic violence of Nazis both in school and on the streets of Berlin in the 1930’s. We see Karl develop as he eventually is forced to take on a new role, that of family protector.
Max Schmeling was a real person, and the author found evidence that Schmeling, despite being the idol of the Nazis, protected two young Jewish boys on Kristallnacht 9 November, 1938, and then helped get them out of Germany. Sharenow used this as the basis for his story, making Karl an aspiring cartoonist (as Sharenow himself was) and a passionate devotee of boxing. I read the story with total involvement and pleasure; it is utterly believable, very gripping, and given extra depth by the Letter from the Author, his essay called Confessions of a Failed Cartoonist, and his historical timeline covering the lifespan of Max Scxhmeling from 1905 – 2005.