CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 4 . . . .October 14, 2005
Kathy Kacer recreates post-World War II Toronto in Margit: A Bit of Love and a Bit of Luck. She describes the complicated situation of the new immigrant child—almost ashamed of the old customs and language of her parents but faced with the difficult demands of the new world.
Margit is a 12-year old Jewish-Czech girl, who, with her pregnant mother, escaped Hitler's clutches in 1944. They began a new life in a tiny apartment above a shop in the teeming milieu of Kensington Market. When Margit's brother, Jack, is born, he becomes the first Canadian citizen in their family.
The pressure Margit feels to do well in school reflects the expectation that Jewish families had, among other immigrant groups. Education was seen as the key to success, and children were not to waste the opportunity. Margit does well in all subjects, except science, which has terms that confound her. She conceals her troubles as her father, who has survived the war, joins his family in Canada.
Mr. Freed is a problematic character, both for Margit and for the book. Margit has changed greatly in just the one and a half years that they have been separated. Now she must try to relate to an Old Country father who has also had experiences she cannot imagine. Many Holocaust survivors did not speak for many years about what they experienced at the hands of the Nazis, although in unguarded moments, such as dreams, it was clear that they were hiding terrible memories. Mr. Freed is one of those. But because this is such a short novel, Mr. Freed's character is not elaborated adequately to allow the reader to understand why he is the way he is.
Perhaps Kacer and the publishers want to spare young children the gruesome reality of Hitler's genocide of the Jews. But the truth of such terrible events needs to be acknowledged, especially if we want our youth to learn the lessons of history. Anti-Semitism pervaded European society and was a prominent element in Canadian foreign policy at the time as well. There are only allusions to this in the introduction, but a child will not understand the unexplained reference to the Prime Minister who wanted to exclude Jews from entering the country.
Readers would also appreciate the emphasis Margit's parents put on her to do well in school if more information about the situation in Europe was provided. The unexplained issues that swirl in this book mean that Margit spends much of the book in internal turmoil.
Margit does overcome her negative feelings and is drawn into the circle of love that her family provides. They are certain to make progress because of their loyalty to each other and their determination.
This volume of the "Margit" series is not as successful in educating young readers as was the first book, Home Free.
Recommended with reservations.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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