Saturday, January 05, 2013

Prisoner B-3087 (2013)

Prisoner B-3087. Alan Gratz. 2013. [March 2013] Scholastic. 260 pages.

If I had known what the next six years of my life would have been like, I would have eaten more. I wouldn't have complained about brushing my teeth, or taking a bath, or going to bed at eight o'clock every night. I would have played more. Laughed more. I would have hugged my parents and told them I loved them. But I was ten years old, and I had no idea of the nightmare that was to come. None of us did. It was the beginning of September, and we all sat around the big table in the dining room of my family's flat on Krakusa Street, eating and drinking and talking: my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and me, Jakob--although everybody called me by my Polish name, Yanek.

Prisoner B-3087 will definitely be on my best books of 2013 list. I loved, loved, LOVED this one. I think it's definitely Alan Gratz's best work, and I have absolutely loved some of his books. It is also one of the best holocaust novels I've ever read, and I've read plenty over the past twelve years. It is based to a certain degree on the true story of Jack Gruener, though it is a novelization. It is historical fiction set in Poland chronicling the years 1939-1945. It is a very compelling read.

What I absolutely LOVED about it was the writing. The narration was amazing: beautiful, haunting, simple yet incredibly compelling.

Yanek's secret middle-of-the-night bar mitzvah:
"Now we are ten men," my father whispered. He smiled at me. "And soon we shall be eleven. I'm sorry we did not have more time for your studies, Yanek. Just do your best."
The Torah scrolls were taken out and unrolled so I could read from them. My Hebrew was rough. Before the Nazis, I would have been at the synagogue once or twice a week ahead of time, practicing for this. But of course that was impossible now. I muddled through, and if God or man heard anything amiss, neither of them called me on it.
When I was finished, my father chanted a blessing over me in place of our rabbi, who had been killed by the Germans. He prayed in Hebrew, then spoke in Polish.
"Yanek, my son," he said, looking at me solemnly, "you are a man now, with all the duties of an adult under Jewish law. You are now responsible for your own sins, but also for your own goodness. Remember what the Talmud teaches: Life is but a river. It has no beginning, no middle, no end. All we are, all we are worth is what we do while we float upon it--how we treat our fellow man. Remember this, and a good man you will be."
"I will, Father," I said. I  had waited for this day, looked forward to it for years. Suddenly it didn't matter that we weren't in a synagogue, that we didn't have a feast waiting for us afterward. The smile on my father's face filled me with pride. (46-7)
Advice from Uncle Moshe to Yanek when he first arrives at his first (of ten) camps (work, concentration, death):
"Yanek, we haven't much time," he whispered. "Listen closely. Here at Plaszow, you must do nothing to stand out. From now on, you have no name, no personality, no family, no friends. Do you understand? Nothing to identify you, nothing to care about. Not if you want to survive. You must be anonymous to these monsters. Give your name to no one. Keep it secret, in here," Uncle Moshe said, tapping his heart with his fist... Your parents, Oskar and Mina. They are dead and gone now, Yanek, and we would grieve them if we could. But we have only one purpose now: survive. Survive at all costs, Yanek. We cannot let these monsters tear us from the pages of the world. (68, 70)
Other passages I marked:
We were lined up in row upon row while the Nazis checked the numbers on our uniforms against the tally on their clipboards. I realized then: They would beat us and starve us and shoot us like we didn't matter, but they would always keep track of us. (70)
By the time I got to the head of the line, I understood what was happening. We were being tattooed. I watched as the man ahead of me had letters and numbers carved into his skin in black ink with an electric needle. When it was my turn, the Nazi with the tattoo pencil grabbed my arm and started to write. The pain was awful as he dragged the vibrating needle over my skin, but I knew better than to cry out or beg him to stop. Besides, nothing could be worse than what had already happened to me. I had been in a gas chamber. I had looked up into a showerhead and waited for death to come, and it had passed me by. I was alive. A tattoo was nothing to me. Not in that moment. (131)
That night as I lay in the middle slot of my three-tiered bunk, I heard voices in the distance singing. I couldn't believe it, and I lifted my head to hear better. It was a lullaby my mother had sung to me when I was a child, but it sounded like it was being sung by a choir. Had I finally lost my mind? Was I going crazy?
"It's the women," the man next to me in the bunk whispered. "They sing when mothers and their children are taken to the gas chambers."
I listened to their song, distant and plaintive.
"How often do they sing?" I asked.
"All day," the man said. "All day, and every night." (154)
Not long ago, all these half-dead creatures around me had been people, I realized. Which of them had been doctors? Teachers? Musicians? Businessmen, like my father? Which of the boys had been students like me? Playing ball in the streets after school, laughing and calling to their friends? It seemed like a lifetime ago. Years. How many years? Like the days, I was beginning to lose count. Five years? Six? Had it been that long? (170)
Read Prisoner B-3087
  • If you want to read one of the best books of the year
  • If you are interested in holocaust books--fiction or nonfiction
  • If you are interested in reading about world war II
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous,  5:05 PM  

AMAZING book. It exceded my expectations. I thought this would be just like any other holocaust book, but it truly is mind blowing.

Samantha,  11:30 AM  

Awesome! :) Thanks for the bits you added. I can't wait to read this!!

(PS Another good WWII book is Run Boy Run by Uri Orlev. It is about a little Jewish boy who survives WWII by living in the forests and with miscellaneous Polish families. And, he ends up surviving with only one of his arms. Amazing story!!)

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

My Blog List

(Old) Challenge Participants

Becky's Hosting These Challenges

100 Books Project: Fill in the Gaps

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP