Friday, July 24, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of The Year of Goodbyes

Until about ten years ago I had never read a novel written in blank verse . The idea seemed rather strange at first, but then I had the privilege to review several wonderful books written in this style, and I started keeping my eyes open for such titles. Today's poetry title is one of these books, though in this case the story told is a true one and not a work of fiction. The narrative is powerful and often painful, and it beautifully captures the experiences a young girl had at a time when her world was falling apart.

The year of goodbyes The year of goodbyes
Debbie Levy
Poetry
For ages 10 and up
Hyperion, 2010, 978-142312901-1
In the 1930’s many of the young girls in Germany owned a poesiealbum, a poetry album that their friends could write in. The girls would take a friend’s poesiealbum home with them, and in their best handwriting they would write a little poem for that friend. Often the little gifts of words were decorated with drawings or stickers of good luck motifs such as four-leaf clovers and ladybugs. Jutta Salzburg was one of these girls who had a poesiealbum. What made her album so special was that the little notes of love, support, and friendship written on the pages helped Jutta get through a time when life in Germany was very hard for many of its citizens.
   Jutta’s story beings in 1938. Not that long ago Jutta’s life in Hamburg was ideal and full of happiness and hope. Then the Nazis came into power and ever since then the government has been eroding away the rights of Germany’s Jewish citizens. By 1938, Jutta and the other Jewish children had been forced out of the public schools and were now going to schools for Jews. The Jewish children can no longer play on the streets because it is not safe for them to do so. Jutta’s father no longer has a job, and he spends all of his time trying to find ways to get his family out of Germany to safety.
   With every passing day the situation in Hamburg gets more and frightening. Jutta and her friends and family members try not to dwell too much on what is going on around them, but how can they pretend that everything is normal when brown shirts march in the streets; when Jewish families start disappearing; and when they live in fear that they will end up in something called “a concentration camp?”
   In this remarkable book, Jutta Salzburg’s daughter pairs entries from her mother’s real poesiealbum with blank verse poems to give readers a picture of what it was like to be a young Jewish girl living in Hamburg in 1938. Sentiments or ideas mentioned in the poems are picked up and explored in the blank verse in the context of what was going on in Jutta’s life at that time. Presented chronologically, the blank verse help readers to see how Jutta’s life deteriorated as the Nazis set about ridding Germany and then Austria of its Jewish residents.
   In an afterword the author tells us more about her mother’s story and the history behind the narrative. We also find out that she did her best to find out what happened to all the girls whose poems appeared in her mother’s poesiealbum. There is also a timeline to help readers see how the Nazi persecution of Jews escalated over time, and how their actions were tied into the story of Jutta’s life in 1938. Readers will also find a collection of Jutta’s photos that help us to see what the characters mentioned in the book really looked like.

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