Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-03-19
- Reviewer: Staff
This multilayered story, first published in Germany, spotlights the "Kindertransport" of Jewish children to London during WWII. Narrated in memoir style by a charming heroine, Ziska, the novel spans from her 11th birthday to her 19th. The narrative also serves as a thorough introduction to Judaism, as the protagonist—who is not actually Jewish but labeled as such in Berlin because of her Jewish ancestors—joins an Orthodox family in London. Given a new name upon her adoption, she recalls, "I had arrived. I was no longer Ziska. From now on I was Frances, and would never want to be anyone else again." Voorhoeve cogently explores themes of motherhood and adoptive families, conveying the girl's complicated relationship with her narcissistic, unstable birth mother and her growing closeness to her loving adoptive one. Frances's friendship and attraction to her adoptive brother Gary is gracefully portrayed, while the devastating cost of the war is tempered by the words of Ziska's professor friend who tells her, "Live!... And live well! That is the only thing you can do for them." Ages 12–up. (Mar.)
Forging bonds amid the bombs
The year is 1938 and German Jews are losing their jobs; their children are being forced out of school and harassed on the street. But, 11-year-old Ziska wonders, why should this affect her? Her family converted to Protestantism two generations ago. If her mother loves her, why is she putting Ziska on a children’s train—a kindertransport—to live with strangers in England?
Life in England brings many surprises for Ziska. Her host family practices Orthodox Judaism, and Ziska becomes intrigued by their rituals. The family’s son welcomes her immediately, and she also finds friends in a fellow kindertransport passenger and an elderly professor. And although Ziska and her host mother get off to a rocky start, they soon begin to develop a bond that will prove to be tremendously meaningful for both of them.
As Ziska’s relationship with her host family develops, so does the war, including bombings and blackouts in London, further evacuations to the countryside and rumors of unspeakable horrors against Jews in German-occupied lands. By the time peace is declared in 1945, Ziska is 18 years old, and both her world and her perspective have changed in ways she could never have imagined.
Anne C. Voorhoeve’s historical novel, first published in Germany, raises many questions: What does it mean to be a friend, a daughter, a German or a Jew? Reflecting its wartime setting, the events in My Family for the War are at times harsh and unforgiving. But ultimately, Ziska’s story is about the persistent love of a family . . . and a generation’s hope for better times to come.