Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Night of the Burning

Wulf, Linda Press. 2006. The Night of the Burning: Devorah's Story.

Linda Press Wulf's first novel is inspired by the childhood of her mother-in-law, Devorah Lehrman. Beautifully written, it is a story about the anguish of losing family and home and the importance of remembering. The novel won the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award and first prize for a juvenile fiction manuscript from the California Writers Club.

Based on a true story, The Night of the Burning, tells the story of two sisters, orphans who at the ages of twelve and nine have witnessed too much already: the death of their uncle, father, mother, aunt, and the destruction of the entire Jewish community where they lived. As their community's sole survivors, the girls are rescued and sent to an orphanage in Pinsk. There the girls are chosen to be part of two hundred children sent to the Jewish community in South Africa. Their leader, a philanthropist, Isaac Ochberg, whom the children call "Daddy Ochberg."

The man patted the bench next to him, and I sat down warily. "I'll explain why I am here," he began. "I've come a long way, from a country called South Africa, down at the tip of Africa. There are Jewish people there, and they're worried about all the children in Europe who have no fathers and mothers because of the Great War. Ant that craziness they call the Russian Revolution." I knew about the Great War and the Russian Revolution, but they meant nothing to me. I only thought about the morning when we tucked Papa's blankets in to try to keep him warm, when he was already dead. And I thought about Mama before she died, calling for more water, more water, as the typhoid burned her from inside. I thought about the flames galloping through our village, the synagogue glowing red against the night. I shook my head to get rid of those thoughts. I needed to concentrate on the strange things Mr. Ochberg was saying. "So they sent me to find two hundred children and bring them back to South Africa. It's a beautiful country and a safe place for Jews. I'll take you and your little sister. But only if you really want to go with me." (7-8)

The story is communicated through a series of flashbacks, juxtaposing her journey to South Africa with her memories of home both pleasant and frightening. Our narrator is Devorah who ages from twelve to fourteen throughout the telling of this story. It is an amazing story of hope and despair, fear and joy, tears and laughter. It is the journey of how two sisters learned to laugh, love, and hope once more.
Isaac Ochberg


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