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Shadows of a Childhood: A Novel of War and Friendship
     

Shadows of a Childhood: A Novel of War and Friendship

by Elisabeth Gille, Linda Coverdale (Translator)
 

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A "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) and "unforgettable" (Kirkus Reviews) novel of war and friendship. Praised by the New York Times as "unsettling and uncompromising," this winner of France's 1997 Grand Prix des Lectrices is a fictionalized account of one individual's -- and one country's -- coming to terms with World War II. Léa and Benedicte are five and seven when

Overview

A "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) and "unforgettable" (Kirkus Reviews) novel of war and friendship. Praised by the New York Times as "unsettling and uncompromising," this winner of France's 1997 Grand Prix des Lectrices is a fictionalized account of one individual's -- and one country's -- coming to terms with World War II. Léa and Benedicte are five and seven when they are hidden together in a convent in Bordeaux in the 1940s. They become inseparable, sharing everything except the secrets of their parents' disappearances. After the war, Benedicte's world returns to normal while Léa, marked by childhood memories she cannot escape, undertakes a devastating search for the truth. Hailed as a "novel of understated grace and enormous power" by Library Journal, this is a book destined to take its place alongside The Diary of Anne Frank.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Patti Sylvester Spencer
Although five-year-old Lea's parents saved her from a death camp by surrendering her to a French Resistance fighter, they were unable to spare her the alienation and despair that consumed war orphans-particularly Jewish orphans in a France not without blatant anti-Semitism. Fictionalizing her personal experiences, Gille crafts Lea's precocious character with spunk, volition, and savvy. While Lea memorizes catechism easily, she poses uneasy existential questions. She lies voraciously, creating extravagant fictions about her former life, a life that fades fast with the removal of surname, religious identity, and family connections. Initially befriended by saintly Benedicte and her parents, Lea values Benedicte not only as a confidante and co-conspirator, but as a life force providing a vicarious appreciation of goodness and potential. While adults furnish insulated sanctuary, Lea longs for truth, searching a luxury hotel turned mortuary for remnants of her parents and attending the trials of collaborators. As the full horror of the Nazi death camps unfolds, Lea realizes how quickly people who pretended not to see now want to forget-and possibly forgive. This complex novel traces Lea's life and friendship from convent school to the Sorbonne, including forays into the philosophy of Vladimir Jankelvitch. Gifted junior high schoolers and older students will value the rich descriptions, advanced vocabulary, ethical discussions, and topics begging research woven into a story seldom shared with such impact-including Lea's self-mutilation as she tries and fails to make sense of her disappearing identity. The naiveté of Sister Saint-Gabriel, discord between Catholic and Jew, and the appeal of communism in a post-war France generate significant ideas to ponder. What a compelling and intense companion to recent publications such as Gudrun Pausewang's The Final Journey (Viking, 1996/VOYA April 1997) or Carol Matas's After the War (Simon & Schuster, 1996/VOYA August 1996). The dark "shadows" Gille deftly illuminates linger with readers long after the novel's stark closure. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Will appeal with pushing, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal
Gille was just five when her mother, Russian writer Irene Nemirovsky, was deported to Auschwitz, and the two never heard from each other again. This work is a fictionalized account of their wrenching separation and a piercing look at what it means to survive mass genocide. Told in the voice of Lea Levy, the book spans 13 yearsfrom the Jewish child's arrival in a French convent school following her parents' arrest by the Germans to her college years at the Sorbonne. Throughout, it asks essential and timeless questions: What does it mean to witness widespread atrocity? Is evil endemic to the human condition? What is Jewish identity? Why does anti-Semitism persist? In addition, the book uses Lea's friendship with a spirited, slightly older Christian girl to explore the possibilities of healing intense childhood trauma. Gille, who died in 1996, was posthumously awarded France's prestigious Grand Prix de Lectrices in 1997 for this novel of understated grace and enormous power. Readers are sure to be deeply affected by this resonant and vexing work. Highly recommended.Eleanor J. Bader, New Sch. for Social Research, New York
From the Publisher
"Unsettling and uncompromising." —The New York Times

"One of those rare books that captivates you from the very first page and haunt[s] you long after you’ve finished." —ELLE

"A holocaust story of uncompromising psychological depth." —The Baltimore Sun

"A novel of . . . enormous power." —Library Journal

"Shadows of a Childhood moves us not only with the story of a little Jewish girl exiled from one milieu to another, from one life to another, but also through the sober delicacy with which this tale is told." —Elie Wiesel

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565845282
Publisher:
New Press, The
Publication date:
06/28/1999
Pages:
138
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.40(d)

Meet the Author

The daughter of Irène Némirovsky and one of France’s leading literary editors, Elisabeth Gille (1937–1996), wrote three novels, of which Shadows of a Childhood was the first to appear in English.

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