Booklist Review of Ashes

ASHES, by Kathryn Lasky (Viking 9780670011575).

In 1932 Berlin, blond 13-year-old Gabriella looks like the Aryan purists’ ideal, but her strongly anti-Fascist family is derisively called “white Jews,” and her astrophysicist father is friends with Einstein, whose theory of relativity is termed “Jewish physics” by the Nazis. From Gabriella’s viewpoint, Lasky tells a gripping story about Hitler’s early rise to power, including the Germans’ bitterness about their suffering after World War I. Though the filling in of background history sometimes feels slightly contrived, individual characters’ stories give a strong sense of the complex issues, such as the pro-Hitler maid who is tired of being poor; the beloved teacher, who wants Gabriella to be a leader in the girls’ section of the Hitler Youth; and Gabriella’s sister, who becomes pregnant while dating her sweet boyfriend, an ardent Nazi. Like Anne Frank, Gabriella loves American movie stars. She is also a big reader, and at the start of each chapter, there is a quote from what she is reading from authors such as Hemingway, Heine, London, Remarque, and Twain, whose books are among those publicly destroyed in the wild, historic book burning that is the climax of this story. From the opening quote, by Heine—“Where they burn books, they will end by burning human beings”—the personal and the political history will haunt readers.

—     Hazel Rochman


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