Title: The Book of Aron
Author: Jim Shepard
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 260
Aron is a little Polish boy who is considered a burden by his impoverished and abusive family. He’s living in Warsaw during the Holocaust and his entire neighborhood is a war zone where Jews are being singled out and harassed on the street. When his life falls apart he ends up staying in the orphanage of Janusz Korczak, a children’s doctor based on a real historical figure. Aron has to rummage and steal to stay alive and the Korczak does his best to take care of the children in his care, but life gets harder and harder and their options steadily diminish.
The Book of Aron is a slim but emotionally wrenching novel that dealt with an angle of history I wasn’t familiar with. I’ve read a lot of Holocaust books and I liked this one because it felt different from anything I’d seen before. A lot of these books only focus on the main character when they’ve been sent to a concentration camp or subjected to some other atrocity, and you don’t get much of a sense of who that person was ‘before’ or what their life was like.
The Book of Aron has a well-developed and morally ambiguous young lead whose character could exist outside the historical setting he’s placed in. The kids in the book give a real Lord of the Flies feel but all their violent and barbaric behavior rings true within the context of the horrific situations they’re in. The writing is vivid and makes the reader’s skin crawl, with powerful descriptions of disease and squalor. I’ve read one book by Jim Shepard besides this one (Project X) and even though I liked it, this is definitely the superior work in almost every way.