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The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Organizer Daughter and a friend and I watched the movie version of this book by Jane Yolen this afternoon in conjunction with the urchins’ study of World War II. I read the book a long time ago and didn’t remember much about it. Hence, the ending quite shocked me, as I vaguely remember it shocking me when I read it.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s a tale of sixteen year old “typical teenager” Hanna Stern who, when she is forced to attend the annual family Seder, tries to avoid hearing the interminably long stories that her elderly relatives tell about their WW II experiences. However, during the Seder, a mystery intervenes (or is it a dream?), and Hanna is somehow transported back to Poland in the year 1940. She attends a Jewish wedding with some of her relatives who think she is a cousin who has been ill with a fever, and at the wedding, tragedy strikes. The Nazis come to take the Jews to “work camps”, and because Hanna has ben completely inattentive to her family’s history and heritage, she has very little idea of what will happen next to her and to her Polish, Jewish family.

I wouldn’t recommend the movie for any children younger than 13 or 14. Even my high schoolers were, I think, shocked by some of the scenes of brutality and horror that took place in the concentration camp. And that’s despite the fact that I think the movie sort of understates and even misrepresents the reality in some ways. The inmates of the camp are a lot more free to interact and a lot more warmly dressed than I would think was the true state of affairs. Anyway, this movie is for mature teen and adults, and I think it did my teens some good to see enacted some historical facts that they had only read about until now.

The movie stars Kirsten Dunst as Hanna and Brittany Murphy as her friend Rifka.

1 Comment

  • Maw Books says:

    I just read this book in February! I actually saw the movie first having no idea that it was a book. Then while in a bookstore, I saw the book and knew that I had to read it! Although the movie held back in quite a few areas, I though both were well done. I’ve reviewed the book on my blog as well.

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