________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 21 . . . . June 8, 2007


Stolen Voices: Young People’s War Diaries, From World War I to Iraq.

Zlata Filipovic & Melanie Challenger, eds.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2006.
291 pp., pbk., $19.95.   
ISBN 978-0-385-66262-8.

Subject Headings:
Children and war.
Children and violence.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

***½ /4


Whole columns of East Prussian refugees came through the town. Many are crying. But some are quite quiet. There are mothers with quite tiny children. They put their infants under their shawls and let them drink. The little ones’ behinds are bloody because the mothers haven’t enough nappies to lay them out to dry. We have torn up old sheets and shirts and given them pieces to wrap the babies in. Gretel and I now play a game in the yard in which her old celluloid doll is a refugee child that has no nappies. She has painted its behind red, indicating soreness. (From World War I diary of German girl Piete Kuhr, Aug. 30, 1914, written at the age of 12).

Filipovic, whose own wartime diary, Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, was acclaimed upon publication in the early 1990s, and Challenger have compiled a remarkable collection of 14 war-time diaries written by young people aged 11-21. Eight of these are previously unpublished, and several of the others were out of print. Full bibliographical details about the works and their translation are not provided.

     Each diary is introduced with a concise biographical sketch and brief historical note about the conflict to set the diary in context. The diary entries stand on their own with a minimum of editorial commentary, although readers may be surprised at the end to find a glossary that explains some of the terms and names found in the entries. Very brief afterwords describe the fate of or current situation of the diarists. The work includes eight pages of photographs of many of the diarists and sample pages from a few of the diaries.

     The collection includes voices from different perspectives, ranging from young soldiers to civilian war prisoners. The details differ, but all capture the immediacy of the mental and physical strain of living in the midst of conflict. It was difficult to choose only one excerpt to introduce this review since each diarist records compelling accounts of her/his experiences.

     World War II is represented by the largest number of entries: Nina Kosterina, a Russian teenager living in Moscow, Inge Pollack, a homesick Austrian Jew evacuated to England via the Kindertransport, William Wilson, a New Zealand soldier who lost his diary in Egypt where it was found and subsequently used by German soldier Hans Stauder, Sheila Allan, a British subject captured with her family in Singapore when the colony surrendered to the Japanese and whose startling account of deprivation readily explains her confession to eating worms and a baby mouse, and Stanley Hayami, a Japanese American teenage patriot interned in a Japanese relocation camp where he dreams of a career as an illustrator but ends up leaving the camp when he enlists in the army.

     The Holocaust is represented by two diarists: Yitshok Rudashevski, a Jewish Lithuanian youth who describes his feelings upon seeing fellow Jews forced by the Nazis to wear a yellow badge, and Clara Schwarz, a Polish Jew who, together with 17 others, endured two years in a cramped bunker beneath a house that was at times occupied by German soldiers.

     American soldier Ed Blanco’s diary from the Vietnam War documents the heavy toll that war takes on civilian locals as well as military participants. Zlata Filipovic’s own diary from the Balkans War reveals a precocious child who is frustrated with the “kids” or politicians who have turned her childhood upside down. Two young women, Shiran Zelikovich, a Jewish Israeli living in Tel Aviv, and Christian Palestinian Mary Masrieh Hazboun from Bethlehem recount their respective experiences of the horrors of the Second Intifada in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The final entry is by Hoda Thamir Jehad, an Iraqi woman who describes conditions during the early part of the Iraq War when misery is tempered with joy at the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime and the eventual capture of Hussein.

     Readers of all ages will gain new insight into the reality of life in wartime from these compelling diaries.

Highly Recommended.

Val Ken Lem is a librarian and member of the Collection Services Team at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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