This first week in May brings to mind the liberation of the concentration camps at the end of World War II. The Nazis had exterminated an estimated 11 million people because of political or religious affiliations, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disabilities.
Six million of these people were Jews.
Some were members of my family.
I have yet to write about those Holocaust years, although The Ninth Day (companion novel to Blue Thread and the forthcoming Seven Stitches) spirals between the free speech protestors in 1964 Berkeley and the Jewish granddaughter of Rashi in 1099 Paris, in the aftermath of the Crusader attack on the Jews of Mainz. The story touches on survival and guilt, on speaking up, and on the power of song.
The main character in The Ninth Day speaks up as little as possible to avoid stuttering. She would have admired Aaron, the boy who stutters in Anna Olswanger’s Greenhorn.
Greenhorn confronts the Holocaust directly. This gem of a book for middle-grade readers is closely based on a true story, which Olswanger heard from Rabbi Rafael Grossman in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Tom Whitus recently adapted the book and, with Olswanger, co-produced a screenplay, which has been shown to audiences in Israel, Mexico, and across the U.S.
In the film, as in the book, Aaron befriends Daniel, a Jewish boy from Poland, who is orphaned by the death camps, and who arrives at a Brooklyn yeshiva in 1946. The two unite against the boys who taunt Aaron (aka “Gravel Mouth”), because of his stutter, and Daniel, because of a tin box that he guards ferociously. This story is short but by no means small. The Ninth Day starts in 1964 Berkeley and sweeps across time and space. Greenhorn, taking an opposite approach, focuses on a single place in 1946 Brooklyn, and yet it offers readers a far-reaching perspective.
Greenhorn is told with the artistry that Olswanger demonstrated in her first book, Shlemiel Crooks. A former literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates, she now has her own agency. I hope Anna Olswanger continues to write. Give us more!