Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review of Ashes by Kathryn Lasky

There are plenty of books about the Holocaust, for all ages and from all points of view. In Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil, this is problematic for the main character, a writer named Henry, because he has written what he feels is a fresh allegorical look at the Holocaust, only to realize (thanks to his editors) that in fact he has covered the same ground in the same way as countless others.

This is the challenge for any writer covering this intense, fraught, and oft-described subject. Ashes meets it by presenting the story from the point of view of 13-year-old Gaby, who lives with her upper-middle class family in 1932 Berlin. Gaby isn't Jewish, but her family is disgusted and alarmed by the fascist element - most notably Hitler's SS and SA troups - that seems to be gaining power and influence in Germany.

Gaby is a big reader, and so a huge book burning staged by the Nazis is a powerful and horrifying event for her. However, her antennae go up long before this, as the tone of her society changes in ways small and large, banal and menacing. We often ask "How could regular people have allowed such horrors to happen?" and this book will give readers a glimpse at how this might have become possible.

What if the Tea Party folks managed to come to power, along with those who have become stridently anti-Muslim? We have some powerful laws and documents to protect our freedom in the US, but if those laws became eroded, there is a pretty scary fringe element that would be happy to rush in and take over. Not that the US is anything as volatile or horrific as 1930s Germany - but what books like Ashes show us is that we always need to be on our guard against hatred and irrationality.

I sensed bits and pieces of many different books and movies about this time period in Ashes. There is a boyfriend-turned-Nazi, a la "The Sound of Music," and a scene in which a frighteningly blond youth sings a stirring patriotic song in a Biergarten is very similar to a scene in "Cabaret." It's Gaby's thoughtful reactions to the people and events around her that form the core of this novel, so a bit of retreading isn't so terrible.

Ashes is well-written (from the clear-eyed, if occasionally appropriately histrionic point of view of teenaged Gaby), and if it isn't strikingly unique, that's fine. The Holocaust is one of those topics we need to keep thinking, talking, and reading about, in order to ensure that it never happens again.
Ages 11 to 14


  1. This sounds like a good one--I've always been drawn to books about WWII, but this will be a new perspective for me.

  2. dont read it, i read it and it is horrible

  3. this book was amazing, i recommend it to anyone who likes history or World War II

  4. It's a pretty good book, I read this for an assignment at school.

  5. I got this book from the bookfair and its great!

  6. i never read but this book made me kinda wann read more.

  7. The Tea Party folks are NOT comparable in any way to the Nazi groups!! How could you bring that up in a book review meant for young teens? Why would you try to influence young readers to think the Tea Party folks are a group to be afraid of? They are Americans that have the same beliefs and hopes for their country that our Founding Fathers had. The Tea Party folks are trying to bring attention to the principles and morals on which our country was founded--freedom and choice, not big government power. if anything, they are comparable to Gaby's family members, who are disgusted with the actions of the government in creating a society which becomes completely obedient, helpless, and dependent on their government!
    Aside from my opinion of the blogger's misunderstood interpretation of the modern day political movements, I think the book gives young readers a glimpse into the emotional effects of difficult political times on otherwise fortunate young adults and how it in a way robs them of some of the joy of childhood because they can sense the tension in the adult world.

  8. i hate this book it is sooo bad

  9. I got to the middle and it's sooo boring. Like, it's just talking about daily life. No conflicts, nothing.

    1. ya i boring unyill 11 chapter but thyen it gets good

  10. GREAT, great book.
    I loved it- there was enough history to learn from but enough story to keep reading.
    I'm using this for my book report, but I'd gladly read it over and over again.

  11. I read it for fun, and really enjoyed it. It has a terrible ending though. Her leaving behind: berlin in a terrible state, her best friend and her sister Ulla who is is pregnant with a Nazi's baby. "A page I couldn't quite read" yeah right.

  12. I got the book from the book fair and enjoyed it a lot. The book was mainly about a side story to World War 2 and how Gaby witnesses the world around her and her thoughts and perceptions of people changing. She goes to books as a retreat from the real world but discovers she can no longer live behind the shelter of books. Her herself and people she is close to and love go through many emotional and to an extent pyshical harships. The sitituation opens her eyes to things she was a first completly oblivious to. While reading the book you find yourself getting attached to Gaby and longing for the story to go on. In the end when Gaby had to laeve her best friend Rosa which she shared many feelings with, her sister Ulla, her mother's friend Baba and her Uncle Hessie, who she all dearly loved I was looking for more, hoping it was not the end, and wanted to read that she returned to Germany where she spent the remainder of her life. Sadly that did not come true. For anybody who enjoys stories with a historical background I highly recomend this book. It has introudeced me to a new genre of books and had left me wanting to expand my knowledge about history.

  13. Yeah, I caught the Cabaret scene too. It was almost exactly the same!

  14. Hi, thanks for your review. I am recommending it to my younger sister after I let her read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, another excellent story.

    My only gripe is with your comparison of the Tea Party with the Nazis. They are two very different groups. You also should not compare people who are anti-Muslim with people who are anti-Semitic.

    1) The Jews in 1930s Europe assimilated with the local population and yet were persecuted for no reason other than the fact they were a convenient scapegoat for economic problems that Hitler well exploited. Hitler targeted both religious Jews and ethic Jews (via bloodlines), and even murdered Jews whose parents had converted to Christians. No one from the Tea Party is advocating the persecution of Jews or any religious group.

    2) Islam is a religion. No one is persecuting them. In fact, they are being accommodated everywhere they go, at least in the West. We build mosques for them and allow them to wear their religious clothing. We do not strip them of civil rights. In fact, we should make them follow our basic civil laws instead of bending over backwards all the time. As a feminist, I think we should stop tolerating how Muslim girls are deprived of education, not given the same status as men under Shariah law for property and inheritance rights, forced into polygamous marriages, etc. But everyone is silent because we do not want to offend cultural sensibilities.

    3) I reckon most of the Tea Party folks, especially the evangelical Christians, support the state of Israel and the Jews, whereas the majority of illiberal America (especially the younger generation) are blinded by Palestinian propaganda and other lies, such as the illegitimate, anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement. So on the contrary, it is the leftists who are calling for greater persecution of the Jews.

    Although I am not an American nor Jew, I have been to Israel and have personally spoken to Tea Partiers. Modern day anti-semitism in the world still exists and it does not come from the Tea Party; it comes from the illiberal left.

    I can see why uninformed people might think they are similar, especially after all the brainwashing from the liberal media. But in reality, the Tea Party and Nazis are VERY different. The former is a group of Conservative Americans, the latter is a monstrosity that will forever be a blemish in human history.

  15. My friend is reading this book for school and she pointed out some (what I think) inappropriate relations with sex, curse words and some other things. Overall it's a great book, I just have a problem with those few things.