The Book of Aron by Jim Shepherd follows the story of a young Jewish boy living in Poland during World War II. As Germany invade Poland, Aron and his family are driven from the countryside to Warsaw, the ghetto, where he is subject to deprivation and disease. He bands together with some other unfortunate children and they work together to smuggle and steal goods to feed their families, trying to stay out of the hands of the Jewish police, or even worse, the Gestapo. When Aron finally loses everything, he is taken in by Janusz Korczak, a renowned advocate of children’s rights, who is in charge of the Warsaw orphanage. But will Aron and the other children manage to escape the atrocities that await the jews during the Nazi regime?
I found it quite hard to get into The Book of Aron at first and this is precisely because it is the book of Aron. Aron is a young, uneducated boy who has little real understanding of what is going on in the world and he lives life day by day. Shepherd delves deep into the mind of Aron and the story is written entirely from his perspective. At first, I found him to be quite an irritating character, as do most of the other characters in the story, but as time goes on you start to see that perhaps he is just misunderstood. His mother struggles a lot during this hard time but she still has some faith in Aron and it is his relationship with his mother that made me reconsider his character. Aron himself could be seen as a symbol of the Jews during this time as he becomes a scapegoat of sorts – used, punished and mistreated, somewhat unfairly.
Reading about all these children who suffered so greatly is not pleasant and this certainly isn’t a happy read. All the characters in this story are well fleshed out and seem like people that could actually exist. As the story is written from Aron’s perspective we only see these characters through these eyes but somehow Shepherd manages to describe all these characters in such a way that you can imagine their entire life story as well. There isn’t a single ‘happy’ character in this book, there are just people learning to carry on whatever life throws at them and I read this story with a heavy heart.
The Book of Aron really was excellent, however, I almost felt like I was reading a work of non-fiction, rather than a children’s story. This is testament to just how incredible Shepherd’s writing is but it isn’t quite what I look for in a book I read for pleasure. This is the sort of book I can imagine being studied in schools; it is an important novel and should be widely read, but only if you are in the right frame of mind for such a book. If you have an interest in the subject and would like to learn something new then I would 100% recommend this for you or your child, but if you are looking for something to entertain you for a few hours then I would look elsewhere.
I would highly recommend buying the latest edition published by Quercus because it contains supplementary information at the back that really enhanced my understanding of the book. When I finished reading the book, I thought Shepherd had written a great depiction of the Warsaw ghetto, but it was not until I’d read the truth behind the story, detailed in these supplementary passages, that I really felt touched. Some characters in the book are based on real characters and Shepherd did a great deal of research before writing this story. Knowing that some elements of this book are true made this book hard to read at times as the depiction of the lives of the Jews is so horribly accurate and the endnotes only heighten this feeling of sheer horror.
*I was sent a complimentary copy for review. All opinions are my own.