Thursday, April 23, 2009

Emil and Karl


Glatshteyn, Yankev. 2006. Emil and Karl. Square Fish. (Roaring Book Press) 194 pages.

There is an immediacy and urgency to Emil and Karl. Written in 1938--in Yiddish--it was only recently (2006) translated and published in English. Set in Austria, Vienna to be exact. The Third Reich is in power, yet the horror of World War II has not yet dawned. The full wrath unleashed during the Holocaust--the organized full-scale murdering of the Jewish people*--has yet to begin. Though the hate is strong and ever-present. Meet Emil and Karl. Best friends. One is Jewish. The other is not. But despite it being in Karl's "best interest" to forget about his Jewish friend, Emil, he can't brush him off.

The seriousness of the novel is apparent from the very beginning. When we first meet Karl, he is alone.

"Karl sat on a low stool, petrified. The apartment was as still as death. He looked at the pieces of the broken vase scattered on the floor. Several times he reached out with one hand to pick up an overturned chair lying beside him. The chair looked like a man who had fallen on his face and couldn't get up. But each time Karl tried, he could only lift the chair up a little bit, and then it fell down again. It was even quieter in the kitchen and the bedroom--so quiet he was afraid to go in there. It wasn't that Karl minded being in the apartment by himself. He'd been left alone there more than once before; he could even go to bed by himself without being afraid. He wasn't scared of spooks or devils. Instead, he loved to stare, wide-eyed, into the darkness and make up stories." (1)


Why is he afraid? He witnessed what I imagine would have seemed the unthinkable. He watched them take his mother. He watched them hurt her. He heard their threats. He heard them threaten to come back...for him. In one night, everything in Karl's world is turned upside down.

When he does move, act, it is to go see his friend, Emil. He seeks the comfort of a true friend. What he learns is that Emil too has changed. Emil and Karl have an enemy in common now. Both have been orphaned. Both have only each other. Can these two children find a way to survive in this topsy-turvy ever-dangerous world where hate rules supreme?

What makes Emil and Karl unique--in my opinion--is its urgency. When it was written, this wasn't a distant event in the past. This wasn't historical fiction. This was current events. This was the threat and danger facing the world. And at the time it was written, it was a threat that had not been conquered. There's a suspenseful quality to it. A sense of the unknown. There was no happy ending light at the end of the tunnel to brighten it up. In fact, the worse was yet to come. It's an emotional novel; it's brilliantly and intelligently written to make you feel that you are there, that you are witness.

*I'm not forgetting that the Holocaust also was about murdering other people as well. There were political prisoners as well as the targeting of gays and gypsies.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
If you're reading this post on another site, or another feed, the content has been stolen.

5 comments:

Amy 7:56 PM  

Never heard of it, but it sounds really good.

joanna 6:46 AM  

wow this sounds so powerful! It's rare to find books about the time just before the war (at least for me!) so I'll have to read this. I can't let anything about that period go by it seems!

Sandra 9:36 PM  

I have to read this. Thanks for reviewing it.

Anonymous,  3:55 PM  

In some cases I agree in others I beleive this is false. I somewht enjoyed this book and anyone who likes this sort of idea would love it.

Serena 10:52 AM  

You're review is posted here: http://warthroughthegenerations.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/reviews-emil-karl-by-yankev-glatshteyn/

I hope you'll be joining us for the 2010 challenge on the Vietnam War.

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

Pageloads Counter

Search Book Blogs Search Engine

The background is based on a background I found here...with some small adjustments on my part so it would work with the template.
Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP