Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs at http://saylingaway.wordpress.com
Noelle has been reading Across Great Divides by Monique Roy
Book Review: Across Great Divides by Monique Roy
Across Great Divides chronicles the lives of a Jewish family living in Berlin – from before the beginning of World War II, through the rise of Nazism and the war itself and finally to their transplantation in another country with equal social dystrophy, South Africa. The subject is one of great poignancy and distress, and anyone, even those too young to know anything about the plight of the German Jews during that war, will be riveted by the story.
The book focuses on Jewish twins Eva and Inga and opens with a rich description of their lives in the sparkling society of Berlin. As Hitler and his Nazi party gradually subsume this society into their party, painful changes occur: their best friend, Trudy, becomes a member of the Hitler Youth and rejects them, Jewish friends lose their businesses, and their younger brother Max becomes a member of the underground resistance. It is Max who sees the ultimate danger for his family and after the devastation of Kristallnacht in 1938, finally manages to persuade his father, Oskar, a diamond merchant, to leave Germany. Oskar takes the diamonds from his store to pay for their escape, but before they leave a valuable family heirloom, a beautiful emerald and diamond necklace, is confiscated by the Nazis. This necklace will become a thread weaving in and out of their lives.
The family’s escape from Germany and then Europe is a tortuous path, filled with danger because it is hard for them to distinguish friends from enemies. Nevertheless, a series of brave and caring people help them – a nun, a countess, and a winegrower – to reach Rio de Janeiro. Because the life there is difficult and the diamond business corrupt, they make the decision to move again, this time to South Africa, another diamond market.
In South Africa, the twins especially see the terrible parallels between apartheid and the treatment of the Jews in Europe. Max becomes drawn into the anti-apartheid movement and the family hires a dirt-poor black woman, Zoe, who lives in a Cape Town slum with her daughter. Eventually Zoe and her daughter comes to live with them, and the family’s members try to shelter her from the evils of the race issues that affect them all.
While the family finally comes to terms with South African society, the reader senses there is more of their story to tell.
This story in and of itself is captivating and there is plenty of historically active detail. The difficulty I had was with the long pages of description and the fact the story was told in third person, which separated me from the feelings of the family members. I wanted deeply to identify with one family member and experience through that person’s eyes the tremendous events of that horrifying and tumultuous time.
Nevertheless, this book is an entertaining read and one that will teach younger readers a lot of history.