Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
After reading The Giver, I decided to read another of Lois Lowry’s literary work, entitled Number the Stars. Number the Stars has also been one of my favorite required readings in grade school. Although the story is shorter than The Giver, the book provides significant information about the life situation of the Danish people during the German occupation of Denmark.
Here’s the plot description from the back cover of the book:
Ten year old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think about life before the war. But it’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching in their town.
The Nazis won’t stop. The Jews of Denmark are being “relocated”, so Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family.
Then Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission. Somehow she must find the strength and courage to save her best friend’s life. There’s no turning back now.
Lois Lowry wrote Number the Stars with a purpose of giving readers a different perspective of war, as the story is centered and told from a child’s point of view. For Annemarie, the protagonist of the story, life before and after war is as opposite as the colors black and white. The war not only inhibits the people from their freedom, but their lives itself are changed, defeated. The attainment of happiness seems as farfetched as fairy tales coming true. There are no happy endings and the life before war has become merely a dream. The book evidently shows that Kirsti’s (Annemarie’s younger sister) yearn for fairy tale stories symbolizes people’s hopelessness – that fairy tales serve as their way of escaping from the dreadful and painful reality. With this said, the way children and adults think about war is no different from each other.
Even though I have not encountered how it was like to live in an era of war, reading this book made me realize that I am extremely fortunate not to experience what Annemarie went through. I could never imagine myself in Annemarie’s position. I might not even survive due to the scarcity of food, as the Danish people were only limited to eating bread and potatoes. Furthermore, distribution of electricity was also restricted. However, throughout the story, I was also amazed by Annemarie’s character development. Despite her young age, she was able to overcome her fear with bravery that even I could not have done. She was mature enough to comprehend what was happening in her surroundings; thus, she played a significant role in helping her Jewish friend, Ellen, escape from the hands of Germans.
The relationship between Annemarie and Ellen was extraordinary. Despite their differences in religion, Annemarie respects the Rosens family without showing any hint of prejudice. She saw beyond the surface and understood what was truly in the hearts of the Jewish people. As they were smuggled to Sweden with nothing but worn out clothes and small amount of food to bring, Annemarie was able to sense that their pride were not completely gone as there were still “other sources of pride that weren’t left behind.” Something that Annemarie herself couldn’t explain.
What added meaning to this book is how readers are taught about the true meaning of bravery. The following are the quotes I took from the book:
“To be brave came more easily if you knew nothing.” (p. 84)
“That’s all that brave means – not thinking about the dangers. Just thinking about what you must do.” (p. 123)
I would like to end this blog entry with a paragraph which captured the heart of Lois Lowry:
“…and I want you all to remember – that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the greatest gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of – something he can work and fight for.”
This was part of the letter written by a determined young man named Kim Malthe-Bruun to his mother the night before he was put to death. Lois Lowry discovered this account as he was one of the Resistance leaders in Denmark who were willing to risk their lives to fight against the Germans and save the Jewish people from falling into their clutches. As this letter gave hope to Lois Lowry, let us fervently aspire to make such world possible for the greater good as well.