CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004
The year is 1960, and Alexandra Gal's Catholic family is living a comfortable life in Canada. Alex has great friends, does well in school, is looking forward to her confirmation, and has just met a cute blonde boy. Her father is a respected doctor, and her mother, despite the scar on her arm and her orthopedic shoe, is the most fashionable person she knows. Her adolescence seems idyllic, except for her erased heritage: Alex's parents will not talk about their lives before their immigration from Hungary. Her world changes as she learns that her parents, as Jews, endured the Holocaust, but in their new hometown of Winnipeg, MB, they altered their religious identity to avoid the racism that was certain to arise if anyone were to find out.
No One Must Know is an unusual angle to the Holocaust story: a post-war tale of Jewish survivors who have settled in Winnipeg. Wiseman has done an excellent job of establishing the main characters before delving into the essence of this after-Holocaust narrative; for example, Alex seems like any average, well-adjusted adolescent. Throughout the novel, Alex and her friends are emphasized as characters to whom contemporary teenagers can relate, with similar problems, such as boy-girl troubles and friendship problems. As a result, young readers will have an easy time of imagining themselves in Alex's position and will become engrossed in her struggle to recover her identity.
As well as the reader's being interested in Alex's personal dilemma, the interesting factual tidbits about the post-WWII life in Canada will catch the reader's attention, including, for instance, the fact that 1960s Canadian history textbooks downplayed Hitler's atrocities: "Our textbook says that Hitler didn't like Jews, but no mention is made of killing people. Nobody would do something so horrible." In our world of information overflow, we have forgotten a time when the extent of the Holocaust's damage was blurred, parallel to the Gals' own allegedly nonexistent past.
The pacing of the book, however, could have been adjusted since it takes a full 119 pages for Alex to discover her true identity after it is made completely obvious to the reader. Subsequently, only the last 74 pages are devoted to Alex's identity crisis, and her switch in allegiance to Judaism is closure that appears too rapidly to seem realistic. Perhaps the novel could have focused on Alex's struggle between her Catholic and Jewish identities.
Although the story is too big to be contained in 193 pages, Eva Wiseman's topic of post-Holocaust survivors is an absorbing and under-represented topic in young adult literature. No One Must Know will engage girls who enjoy historical fiction.
Pam Klassen-Dueck is a Grade 8 teacher at Gillis School in Tyndall, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.