A Place Not Home.
Grades 4 - 8 / Ages 9 - 13.
A Place Not Home, is a promising first novel by a new Winnipeg writer, Eva Wiseman. Nelly Adler has just celebrated her 13th birthday in her home city of Budapest when the events of the Hungarian Uprising of October, 1956 make it dangerous for her family to remain in their home. Their father decides that she and her sister, with their mother and father, must try to escape from Hungary while the Austrian border is still open.
Leaving behind their home, their friends and almost all their possessions, Nelly's family make their way by train and then by foot across the border, with plenty of suspense. After spending some time in a refugee camp in Austria, they decide to come to Canada and eventually settle in Montreal.
What makes this a refreshing change from many wartime "escape" stories are the many little "natural" touches which ring true to Nelly's age and personality. She is incensed when she cannot phone to tell her best friend goodbye. Stifling under several layers of clothes, worn so it will not be obvious they are running away, she gets her father released from the secret police by threatening to throw up in the police station. In the refugee camp she cannot resist stealing a beautiful cake from the camp kitchen to help celebrate her little sister's ninth birthday, but she pays for her misdeeds by washing dishes for a week. When she arrives in Montreal and finds she is treated as a "D.P." (Displaced Person) and shunned by her classmates she persuades her parents to let her buy saddle shoes and a plaid skirt so determined is she to get to know them.
Nelly is a resourceful, brave and spunky heroine to whom young people can relate. But while she is an admirable person, she is not a saint, being often tired, bored or upset by their ordeal. In other words, she is very human. The relationship between Nelly and her family is also a warm and supportive one.
We are always very aware of how Nelly is feeling, as can be seen from this excerpt from their Atlantic crossing:
Last night I dreamed I was riding a roller coaster in Vienna. Up and down, climbing, plunging, over and over again until I became nauseated and dizzy. Mother woke me by turning on the cabin light, and I realized that I wasn't in an amusement park but in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean aboard a ship during a violent thunderstorm. We could hear the raging of the wind and, through the porthole, we could see the splashing of the black waves, which obscured our view of the angry ocean.Eva Wiseman was born in Hungary and came to Winnipeg as a child. No doubt many of the events related in this book are biographical or based on first-hand accounts by family or friends.
A Place Not Home is a book which should appeal especially to girls and would be useful in classrooms where there are students who have recently arrived from other countries, as it gives an excellent description of how Nelly feels on arriving in a strange country where she does not speak the language and is without friends.
Helen Norrie taught for 18 years as a teacher-librarian in a number of Winnipeg schools. She is teaching a course in Children's Literature at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in the winter term, 1997. She writes a regular monthly column on children's books for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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