About the devastating post war environment of Poland. Food is scarce, theft abounds, black market trading is thriving, living conditions are terrible, and innocent people are still being shot. Felix finds himself living in a secret hideout amongst the ruins of the city buildings with Gabriek, a middle-aged man skilled at repairing things and making vodka. Gabriek provides Felix with protection, food, shelter, and most importantly friendship. Throughout the story Felix’s friendships are tested as he deals with life-threatening situations and ruthless gangs. Felix’s circumstances give him reason to be angry, depressed and hopeless, yet Felix remains optimistic and soon learns that some aspects of life are out of his control. He may not have the ability to solve these big problems but his capacity to love and care for others amid all that is happening around him is a mark of a true hero.
Is this series still meant for children, given that this book includes: “medical” experiments on Jews carried out in a concentration camp; rape of a child by soldiers and the child’s consequent pregnancy; extreme racial violence and ethnic cleansing, eg killing of a Ukrainian family and a boy by a gang called “Poland for the Poles”; violence leading to death of a baby; behaviour of people in a post-war environment, including theft, hiding, fear, hunger and insecurity; all kinds of murder e.g. attempted murder of two children by injection by a former concentration camp doctor, random murder, racist murder, revenge-driven murder; children carrying guns?
Then again, the real world can be a very sinful place and the likes of Bruno Bettlheeim suggest that if we shield children from it we do them a disservice.
“Soon, I hope, this is what will happen. People will start to get better. The city will start to heal. Me and Gabriek and Anya and her baby will live together in our hideout, safe and happy behind our sack curtains. A family”
“I hoped the Nazis would be defeated. And they were. I hoped the war would be over. And it was. I hoped we would be safe. But we aren’t.”
I love it when Felix says ‘You know how when’ followed by something impossible for most of us.
After The Nazis took my parents I was scared
After They killed my best friend I was angry
After They ruined my thirteenth birthday I was determined to get to the forest, to join forces with Gabriek and Yuli, to be a family, to defeat the Nazis after all
You know how when you reach a forest swamp sunset and the ground is so wet it’s shimmer and you see what looks like an island way o across the water and you think what a great hi place but you don’t go there because you want to be able to find…
It’s wonderful when a war ends, but then you remember that things will never be the same. Everyone you’ve lost will still be dead.
Parents and relatives and pets and best friends. And some people, even if they’re not dead, you’ll never see again.
I hate war and the way it makes you have so many sad thoughts, because now I can’t stop thinking about Gabriek.
I can’t stop thinking about how he’ll be feeling after the war.
He’ll be glad the Nazis are defeated, but there’s something he won’t be glad about. He won’t be glad he ever met me and Zelda. And I can’t blame him. If we hadn’t arrived at his farm, Genia would still be alive.
The abrupt jump in time from the previous book is disorientating. Now we have mobile phones, before we were in World War 2. However, I can see quite vividly, in my mind’s eye, the places that the author describes.
It was exciting.
I had to look up ‘esky’ = an Australian brand of portable coolers and ‘ute’ = an abbreviation for “utility” or “coupé utility” – is a term used originally in Australia and New Zealand to describe usually two-wheel-drive, traditionally passenger vehicles with a cargo tray in the rear integrated with the passenger body; as opposed to a pickup whose cargo tray is not integrated with the passenger body.
Now, Felix is a grandfather. He has achieved much in his life and is widely admired. He has mostly buried the painful memories of his childhood, but they resurface when his granddaughter Zelda comes to stay with him
Zelda Mark II isn’t having an easy time of it. She’s missing her parents terribly and although she knows they are doing important work in the refugee camps, she can’t help but feel abandoned. She’s being bullied at her new school. And, perhaps most of all, she’s finding it very difficult to live up to her name. Zelda Mark I was brave and bright and heroic – and since she didn’t make it to Australia like Felix, she’s taken on an iconic status in everybody’s mind. Quite how this younger Zelda can live up to that, she just can’t imagine. Even though NOW is firmly set in the present, there are constant reminders of Felix’s past experiences. Zelda has some idea of his past but has been sheltered from the more brutal episodes. She loves her Grandfather dearly but seems to inevitably end up getting into scrapes despite her best intentions
And then a vicious bushfire sweeps Australia, burning all in its path. Can Felix and Zelda seize its flames as an opportunity to cleanse their fears and guilts, or will it burn them up for good?
ONCE I didn’t know about my grandfather Felix’s scary childhood.
THEN I found out what the Nazis did to his best friend Zelda.
NOW I understand why Felix does the things he does. At least he’s got me. My name is Zelda too. This is our story.
Each chapter has four parts: a section ‘exploring the text’, which gives some information on Luke’s narrative and connects it with the season; ‘imagining the text’ which is a poem or piece of imaginative writing from the perspective of a character in the gospel, or a modern-day re-working of the story
Matthew is a good Gospel for Advent. It contrasts strongly with Mark, which is profoundly unhelpful in Advent. Barely has Mark’s Gospel begun before John the Baptist and Jesus burst onto the scene and begin the story in earnest. Matthew’s Gospel is very different and builds up the picture much more slowly and patiently, reminding its readers not only of the importance of waiting but of how long God’s people had waited for this moment.
It contains more Hebraisms (i.e. stylistic quirks that someone who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic may have introduced into the Greek text) than the other Gospels, but not so many as to suggest that it was first written in Hebrew or Aramaic and then translated. The Hebraisms include turns of phrase like saying that the Magi `rejoiced with great joy, which has been smoothed out in the NRSV to ‘they were overwhelmed with joy’ (Matthew 2.10). Such turns of phrase are characteristically Semitic and suggest the author might have been thinking in Hebrew or Aramaic, even if not writing in it.
The devil offered Jesus possession of ‘all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. Whereas we, the readers, know that the representatives of some of those kingdoms have just come to worship Jesus of their own volition, bearing some of their splendour with them. Likewise, at the end of his ministry, Jesus, now in receipt of all authority in heaven and on earth, sends his disciples not to grasp hold of the kingdoms of the world but to offer them a gift, the gift of the good news of Jesus Christ. The third temptation suggests to Jesus another path of being `Son of God, one which involves taking rather than giving, superficial deeds of power rather than hard-won, sacrificial self-offering. In the third temptation, the devil offers Jesus a short-cut to success which will avoid the pain and cost of being the Son of God on earth, but which also involves grasping what is not his, rather than receiving it freely.
This sequel picks up immediately from where ‘Once’ finished. Felix and Zelda jump off a train on its way to a Nazi death camp; their friend Chaya is killed in the process and the children bury her, leaving little 6 year-old Zelda with her short legs and wearing only slippers, less strength to keep up with Felix as he drags her up the hill and into the woods beyond, before a Nazi train, carrying Jews to camps, comes with machine guns on the roof and soldiers who would shoot at them. He also has to worry since Zelda has a bad habit of yelling obscenities at Nazis. Felix, who is ten, adores her as if she was his little sister, and does his best to save both their lives and to keep her quiet, telling her stories about finding kind homes in the wood. Instead, they find a pit in the ground with the tangled up bodies of children, some younger than Zelda. Zelda sobs loudly and the Nazi soldiers glare up the hill and start shooting.
For the rest of the book, they have encounters with various characters, including the son of the matron who ran the former orphanage and now lives in the woods, part of the Resistance. Felix, in his naiveté, is trying to find his parents, in order to warn them not to buy Jewish books because the Nazis don’t like them. The reader must accept Felix’s and Zelda’s naiveté to accept the premise of the book, which has several topsy-turvy events that defy the reader’s expectation. Throughout all their adventures, Felix compares their plight to what happens in a favorite book of his, but this isn’t fiction, it is their lives. The wife of a German soldier becomes their surrogate mother; her husband, a German soldier, becomes a deserter who hides in the hole in the barn floor that Felix had dug for Zelda to hide. The menacing man in the truck, obviously a Nazi sympathizer, is not–he hides Jews. Their adventures are impressive and frightening; the dangers are real as is the innocence of the children.
Often a sequel fails in satisfying a reader, because the first book was so good. It feels like nothing can measure up to it, but that is not the case here. I was happy to see that Gleitzman was able to recapture Felix as I remember him, allowing growth because of his experiences but still very much the sweet, innocent storytelling 10 year old boy he was in Once. Gleitzman has done this with Zelda, too, who remains the same annoyingly-endearing, smart mouth 6 year old girl of Once, constantly asking ‘Don’t you know anything?’ whenever someone states the obvious.
It must be a miracle that his specs never get broken despite the number of scrapes he is in.
From the author: Recently I did some winter travelling in Europe, and slowly noticed I was being stared at. Not all the time, so it clearly wasn’t fame. Just by some people in certain countries. Older men, mostly, and a few older women. In Poland and Holland and Germany and France. They weren’t friendly stares.
Naturally I wondered what was going on. I started checking my reflection in shop windows. I was pretty sure I didn’t look much like a hedge-fund operator, so what could explain the hostility?
Then, at Frankfurt airport, as I was being glared at by a young man with icy-blue hate-filled eyes, I realised what it might be. I was wearing mostly black clothes. In Melbourne, where I live, black clothes are thought to denote cultural discernment of the highest order, so naturally I wear them all the time. And, when I’m in a cold place, a black Fedora hat on my bald head.
Using a little trick we authors have developed, I looked at myself through the eyes of my disgruntled observers. Black shoes, black trousers, black coat, black scarf, broad-brimmed black hat.
Good grief, I thought. They think I’m Jewish.
I was shocked, but not because they were wrong. In fact they were a quarter right. One of my grandfathers was a Jew from Krakow and I embrace aspects of Jewish culture enthusiastically. Salt beef bagels, for example, and irony.
Nor was I shocked to discover that anti-semitism is still alive in Europe, because several times in the past I’d seen fresh Nazi graffiti in Poland and elsewhere.
What shocked me was how openly these people were expressing their feelings. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade reading about the Jewish experience in the Holocaust and trying to imagine the unimaginable. Suddenly, at Frankfurt airport, one facet of that terrible time became a little more real to me.
Years ago, when I decided to write a story about a Jewish child in the Holocaust for readers of eight and up, I had several reasons for doing so and I have to confess that at the time confronting anti-semitism in contemporary Europe wasn’t one of them.
I wanted to write a story about love and friendship, and how we humans are very good at both those things, even though a visitor to our planet might be excused for thinking that what we’re best at is anger, hatred and cruelty. I thought it would be interesting if the young characters doing the love and friendship in the story were surrounded by people doing the opposite.
Every day the media bombards us with countless images of humans being awful to each other. That’s the nature of news. But we also have stories, and stories have the power to redress the balance. Not by fudging the true nature of the world our young people will inherit – that would be a betrayal. By reminding us how, alongside the people doing the worst our species is capable of, we often find other people embodying the very best.
I became fascinated by the ways the non-Jewish communities of Europe responded to the persecution and murder of the Jews. Many people helped the Nazis, many others risked everything to help and hide Jewish fugitives. Most of the Jewish children who survived the Holocaust were hidden or rescued in some other way by people who often came from the same backgrounds as the killers.
I write for young people who’ve reached that time of life when we start the crucial work of creating our own moral landscapes. The time of life when we’re ready to ask ourselves questions like ‘What would I have done?’.
There’s a difficult balance here for a children’s author. My rule is that I don’t want to fudge, trivialize or evade how things were and are, but at the same time I don’t ever want to write a book that leaves young readers feeling worse about themselves and their world. A very difficult balance, which is why Once and Then took me years to write.
I was helped by Felix and Zelda’s armour-plated capacity for love, and by Felix’s creative optimism. And the structure of the story. I knew most of my young readers would come to the books knowing very little about what was happening in Europe in 1942, so I put Felix in the same position at the start of Once and made the first book a journey of discovery, seen entirely through Felix’s eyes.
As an author it feels indulgent to hope that stories can change the world, but of course deep in our hearts we hope just that. Even little changes. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed next time I’m at Frankfurt airport.
I had a plan for me and Zelda. Pretend to be someone else. Find new parents, be safe forever. Then the Nazis came. My name is Felix. This is my story.
“A little hope goes a long way.”
‘I don’t like Jews. I never have. It’s how I was brought up. But there are people I hate much more than Jews. Most of all I hate anyone who hurts children.’
Rather than rebutting penal substitutionary atonement, she seems to accept it as distortion.
And which creation myth has Satan as God’s chief agent?
Why does she think that individualism is ‘metaphorical?’ This is sloppy writing. And I’m not sure whether she disapproves of Buddhist mediation or holds it up as a lesson in prayer on p. 73
However, she is very astute when it comes to how mission statements, targets and managerialism stifle spiritual and church growth. Indeed, I heard her speak at more length on this at a conference recently.
She is also good, matured even, about the challenge of belonging to a church alongside people we don’t like and policies which oppress.
The problem of spiritual under-resourcing is made worse in a prevailing climate of church activism in which mission plans formed at management level, but seldom shaped in the silence of prayer, leave little time or mental space for the pastoral care and spiritual nurture of the people, or of their clergy. By activism I mean the kind of activities undertaken either because the diocese has agreed on a strategy for church growth, with goals and objectives linked to numbers and parish quotas, or because of an increasing sense that churches need to justify their existence in the face of secular doubt and cynicism. This puts a great deal of pressure on clergy, as well as on a few dedicated lay people. It is difficult for these churches to supply a sensitive and intelligent rationale for believing in God, or the confidence needed for people to entrust their lives to him, because they are too busy meeting other people’s agendas.’
Living the Christian faith from a place of compassion and vulnerability involves risk. First, because it rules out infallibility, whether of the Bible or of the authority vested in any one person or powerful ruling body. Second, because it involves the willingness to change the way we think by becoming less passive and unquestioning. Christians need to love the Church into a new place with their minds and hearts. Learning to love the Church requires that we challenge its failures and at the same time have compassion for it in the hurt it causes itself.
The Church needs to actively engage with this need for holiness by promoting prayer. It ought to be a vital part of its work of mission and evangelism. But in order to do this, the Church will need to ensure that the spiritually gifted are selected for ordination (without, in the process, creating a spiritual elite) and given the preparation and training, and later the time, to walk alongside those who are struggling to know God better and to face the deep questions of faith. The same needs to be provided for gifted laity.
Captain Simone Simoni slithers across Europe in the pay of one secret service after another, claiming personal responsibility for the calumnies that provoked most of the political crises of the 19th century. He serves his apprenticeship during Italy’s campaign to liberate itself from Austrian rule. Officially he joins the novelist Alexandre Dumas in embellishing the mystique of Garibaldi; secretly he demolishes the patriotic myth, exposing the fabled warrior as a short, bandy-legged mediocrity. Abandoning Sicily for Paris, he stirs up trouble during the Commune, and goes on to concoct the incriminating document that causes Dreyfus to be convicted of treason. Side excursions link him with the Turkish conman Osman Bey and with the Romanovs in their efforts to suppress the bomb-throwing nihilists. Simonini’s customers and victims are all actual historical characters, which enables Eco to suggest that history is a tissue of fictions, not a tale told by an idiot but a text slickly pieced together by self-appointed authorities who should never be trusted.
Simonini also dabbles in diabolism, and enjoys hoaxing the hoaxer Leo Taxil, who in 1897 staged a perverse and sexually flagrant Black Mass to mock Freemasonry and the Catholic church. His masterpiece is a Gothic fantasy about a nocturnal gathering of rabbis who come together in the cemetery in the Prague ghetto, among upended gravestones that might be the pages of a chaotic, crumbling book, to avenge the humiliations of their race by planning a Jewish coup that will commandeer financial and political power. Elaborating their mad schemes, Simonini the crazed anti-Semite sketches the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which Hitler called his “warrant for genocide”.
Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate Black Masses at night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres.
Roman Catholicism and its anti-Semitism is portrayed ‘at its most mythically malevolent’.
I had to look up mouchards = An undercover investigator; a police spy, especially in a French-speaking country.
The Fourierists? They’re good people, but how can you believe in a prophet who declares that in a new world oranges would be grown in Warsaw, seas would become lemonade, men would grow tails, and incest and homosexuality would be recognised as the most natural human impulses?
“Jew and Protestant are the same. The English Methodists, the German Pietists, the Swiss and the Dutch all learn to read the will of God from the same book as the Jews — the Bible, a story of incest and massacres and barbarous wars, where the only way to win is through treachery and deception, where kings have men murdered so they can take their wives, where women who call themselves saints enter the beds of enemy generals and cut off their heads. Cromwell had the head of his king cut off while quoting the Bible. Malthus, who denied the children of the poor the right to life was steeped in the Bible. It’s a race which spends its time recalling its slavery, and which is always ready to yield the cult of the golden calf ignoring every sign of divine wrath. The battle against the Jews ought to be the main purpose of every socialist worthy of the name. I am not wilting about communists — their founder is a Jew. But the problem is exposing the conspiracy of money. Why does an apple in a Paris restaurant cost a hundred times more than m Normandy? There are unscrupulous races who live on the flesh of others, merchant races like the ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians. And today it’s the English and the Jews.”
“So for you, the Englishman and the Jew are the same?”
“Almost. You ought to read what a leading English politician has written in his novel Coningsby — a certain Disraeli, a Sephardic Jew who converted to Christianity. He had the temerity to write that the Jews were going to take over the world.”
The following day he brought me a book by Disraeli, in which he had underlined whole passages: “You never observe a great intellectual movement in Europe in which the Jews do not greatly participate. The first Jesuits were Jews. That mysterious Russian diplomacy which so alarms Western Europe, who is running it? The Jews! Who is taking over almost all of the professorial chairs of Germany?
“Note that Disraeli is not a mouchard who is denouncing his own people. On the contrary, he is praising their virtues. He writes quite shamelessly that the Russian minister of finance, Count Cancrin, is the son of a Lithuanian Jew, in the same way that the Spanish minister Mendizabal is the son of a convert from Aragon. Soult, an imperial marshal
in Paris, is the son of a French Jew, and Massena was also a Jew, whose original name was Manesseh. . . . And there again, that mighty revolution being plotted at this very moment in Germany, who is behind it? The Jews. Look at Karl Marx and his communists.”
He told me the proportion of women of ill-repute was higher among Jews than among Christians (and don’t we know it, I thought, from the Gospels, where Jesus meets fallen women wherever he goes?) and went on to demonstrate how in Talmudic teaching there is no mention of neighbours, nor any suggestion of duties towards them, which explains and justifies in its own way the ruthlessness of Jews in ruining families, seducing young girls, and putting widows and old people on the streets after bleeding them of all their money. The number of criminals, as well as prostitutes, was also higher among Jews than Christians. “Did you know,” said Gougenot, “that eleven out of twelve cases of theft brought before the courts in Leipzig were committed by Jews?” adding with a malicious smile, “And in fact on Calvary there were two criminals for a single just man. And generally speaking, the crimes committed by Jews are the more heinous, such as deception, forgery, usury, fraudulent bankruptcy, smuggling, producing counterfeit money, extortion, commercial fraud. . . . I need hardly continue.”
“Let us spread the idea of progress which leads to equality for all religions,” said Rabbi Manasse. “Let us fight to stop lessons about the Christian religion in school syllabuses.
Israelites, through their skill and education, will have no difficulty in finding teaching posts in Christian schools..
Religious education will then be relegated to the family, and since most families have little time to concern themselves with this branch of learning, religious feeling will gradually fade.”
A Jew is still a Jew even if, by accident of nature, he is born with blond hair and blue eyes, in the same way as there are children born with six fingers and women capable of doing multiplication. And an Aryan is an Aryan if he lives the spirit of his people, even if he has black hair.
“People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction.”
“Someone said that patriotism is the last refuge of cowards; those without moral principles usually wrap a flag around themselves, and those bastards always talk about the purity of race.”
“A mystic is a hysteric who has met her confessor before her doctor.”
“Listening doesn’t mean trying to understand. Anything, however trifling, may be of use one day. What matters is to know something that others don’t know you know.”
“Libraries are fascinating places; sometimes you feel you are under the canopy of a railway station, and when you read books about exotic places there’s a feeling of traveling to distant lands.”
“You always want someone to hate in order to feel justified in your own misery. Hatred is the true primordial passion. It is love that’s abnormal. That is why Christ was killed: he spoke against nature. You don’t love someone for your whole life – that impossible hope is the source of adultery, matricide, betrayal of friends … But you can hate someone for your whole life – provided he’s always there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred warms the heart.”
“National identity is the last bastion of the dispossessed. But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, on hatred for those who are not the same.”
“For the enemy to be recognized and feared, he has to be in your home or on your doorstep.”
“You cannot change the world with ideas. People with few ideas are less likely to make mistakes; they follow what everyone else does and are no trouble to anyone; they’re successful, make money, find good jobs, enter politics, receive honours; they become famous writers, academics, journalists. Can anyone who is so good at looking after their own interests really be stupid? I’m the stupid one, the one who wanted to go tilting at windmills.”
“Man’s principle trait is a readiness to believe anything. Otherwise, how could the Church have survived for almost two thousand years in the absence of universal gullibility?”
“What does the philosopher say? Odi ergo sum. I hate therefore I am.”
“It takes a little time, but the pleasures of cooking begin before the pleasures of the palate, and preparing means anticipating …”
“When a spy sells something entirely new, all he needs to do is recount something you could find in any second-hand book stall.”
“Not that he felt any particular love for himself, but his dislike of others induced him to make the best of his own company.”
“But Paris, all in all, isn’t what it used o be, ever since that pencil sharpener, the Eiffel Tower, has been sticking up in the distance, visible from every angle.”
“I never liked writing concluding paragraphs to papers where you just repeat what you’ve already said with phrases like ‘In summation’ and ‘To conclude’.”
“I hated my mother who had gone without telling me, I hated my father who had done nothing to stop her, I hated God because he had willed such a thing to happen, and I hated my grandfather because he thought it normal for God to will such things.”
“All I know about the Jews is what my grandfather taught me. “They are the most godless people,” he used to say. “They start off from the idea that good must happen here, not beyond the grave. Therefore, they work only for the conquest of this world.”
“In other words, although I don’t like them, we do need noble-spirited souls.”
“I am gripped by an irresistible urge to kill myself, but I know it’s the devil tempting me.”
“With Germans, as with women, you never get to the point.”
“Luther, he ruined the bible by translating it into their own language.”
“But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, on hatred for those who are not the same. Hatred has to be cultivated as a civic passion. The enemy is the friend of the people. You always want someone to hate in order to feel justified in your own misery.”
“some impudent young Parisian had made a malicious reference in his presence to the latest theories suggesting a link between primitive man and lower species. Dumas replied: “Yes, sir, I do indeed come from the monkey. But you, sir, are returning to one!” He”
“The year had begun with the first protests in Milan against the Austrians, where citizens had stopped smoking to damage the revenues of the imperial government (those Milanese comrades, who stood firm when soldiers and police provoked them by blowing clouds of sweet-scented cigar smoke at them, were seen by my Turin companions as heroes).”
“Then it is he who has sinned, not me. If I had to start worrying whether the client might be lying, I would no longer be in this profession, which is based on trust.”
“If you accuse a man of murder, you might be believed, but if you accuse him of eating children for lunch and dinner like Gilles de Rais, no one will take you seriously.”
“No one believes their misfortunes are attributable to any shortcomings of their own; that is why they must find a culprit.”
“The German lives in a state of perpetual intestinal embarrassment due to an excess of beer and the pork sausages on which he gorges himself.”
“But why, everybody asks, am I not blessed by fortune (or at least not as blessed as I would like to be)? Why have I not been favored like others who are less deserving? No one believes their misfortunes are attributable to any shortcomings of their own; that is why they must find a culprit.”
“Palladism. Then I came to Paris. Maybe they wanted to”
“For the enemy to be recognized and feared, he has to be in your home or on your doorstep. Hence the Jews. Divine providence has given them to us, and so, by God, let us use them, and pray there’s always some Jew to fear and to hate. We need an enemy to give people hope.”
“A German produces on average twice the feces of a Frenchman. Hyperactivity of the bowel at the expense of the brain, which demonstrates their physiological inferiority.”