First Lines: David lay quite still in the darkness, listening to the men’s low muttering. But this evening he was aware of their voices only as a vague meaningless noise in the distance, and he paid no attention to what they were saying.
When I first saw this, I was surprised that this was a Holocaust novel. It doesn’t look like one. It barely even sounds like one. But I had to read it before my students did. (And let me tell you, that is forcing me to read a lot of books I wouldn’t previously have considered.)
12-year-old David cannot remember life outside of the Eastern European concentration camp. He doesn’t know anything about the outside world. But when he sees the chance to escape, he takes it. With enemies hot on his heels, David struggles to cope with the world around him. All he has is a compass, a few crusts of bread, his two feet, and some vague advice to head for Denmark. His journey will force him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about life.
Just to give you a little history on this book, it was originally published in the 1960s in Denmark. This is a translation of the original novel called North to Freedom. And either because of the translation or the original story, it does seem to be written pretty simply. The language is really easy to get through; a young child could easily read this.
The beginning of the story starts off slowly and…weirdly. It’s really strange. I think part of it is because David is such a weird child. He has absolutely no idea how to fit in with the world around him, which makes things horribly awkward at times. Once I got used to David, then I started to appreciate the way he told the story. It just took some time.
The plot seems to meander aimlessly for quite a while. I could not figure out what the story’s end goal was. We don’t know much of anything about David’s background until late in the story. That made it hard to stay interested. Again, once I started figuring things out, the more interesting it got. The way the story ends is kind of worth it.
This really is a different kind of Holocaust story. It doesn’t focus on the atrocities, the tragedies. I truly mean it when I say a young child could read this. There’s nothing in it that specifically talks about anything gross or gory or truly evil. It simply alludes to it. It never even mentions Germans or Nazis by name. We don’t even know if David is Jewish. Most of the story is David’s journey and what he learns along the way. At 12, he’s pretty resilient.
In the world of Holocaust literature, this is definitely tamer and almost light-hearted compared to the other books. It does often seem like a far-fetched story. Still, it deals with the same Holocaust themes and explores what it might be like for a child to try to integrate into a normal world after all the trauma he’s endured.