CM . . . .
Volume I Number 18 . . . . October 13, 1995
The Old Brown Suitcase. A Teenager's Story of War and Peace.
Brentwood Bay, BC: Ben-Simon Publication,1994. 148pp, paper, $11.95.
Grades 5 - 10 / Ages 10 - 15.
Review by Janie Wilkins.
I am eleven.
It is a sunny November day, but I am cold.
An endless dark line of us moves slowly through a gate in the tall
brick wall. People carry on their backs or push in carts all that remains
of their life's belongings. They enter the ghetto beneath the cold eyes
of German soldiers and Polish police. A cruel silence reigns over us
despite the voices, the shuffling of feet, the grinding of wooden carts
against the cobblestone street, and the clanging of pots and pans. The
faces of the people around us are frightened Some are crying as they walk.
I walk with my parents, my hand is numb from the weight of the old
brown suitcase. It contains all I have: one chipped porcelain doll, two
books, my ballet costume, and some clothes.
My father carries two large cases, and a knapsack, while Mother
holds my sister. Basia is only two years old.
We step through the gate away from the sunlight, into the grey
shadow of the ghetto.
Lillian Boraks-Nemetz makes an impressive debut as an author for children
and young adults with the publication of The Old Brown
Suitcase. Although this novel is a work of fiction, it is also
semi-autobiographical; the author has drawn on experiences and memories
from her own childhood during World War II to create a stirring story.
This is a novel sure to evoke an emotional response in all who read it.
The Old Brown Suitcase really has two story lines,
told in alternating chapters. The narrator is Slava, a fourteen-year-old
girl who has just arrived in Montreal with her family. It is 1947 and
Slava's family -- the Lenskis -- have emigrated from their beloved Poland
to begin life anew in Canada. They have lost almost everything important
during the war, including Slava's younger sister, Basia.
Slava must adjust to life in a new country: she needs to learn a new
language and adapt to a foreign culture and school system. She must also
cope with the memories of her childhood. Slava is a survivor of the
Holocaust who has witnessed horrific events during her fourteen years,
Through a series of flashbacks, the reader discovers the "other" story
and learns about Slava's childhood in Poland before and during the war.
Slava's adjustment to life in a new country is eased by several special
friends and teachers. Despite the misfortunes and hardships in her life,
Slava proves herself to be a creative individual with a strong will to live.
Slava is a realistic character with a fully developed,
multi-facetted personality. Readers of all ages will be able to empathize
with her as she adjusts to her new life and accepts the events of her
old. Teenage readers in particular will identify with Slava's struggle to
gain independence and exert her own sense of style and personality.
The writing is straightforward and descriptive. Without being
excessively graphic, Boraks-Nemetz gives the reader enough detail to
comprehend the horror of the persecutions Jews suffered during World War
II. However, the frequent transitions from the story of Slava's present
to the flashback chapters covering various periods before and during the
war are not always smooth, and sometimes disconcerting. But the use of
alternating chapters allows the author to address two very important
topics: the difficulties that immigrant children adapting to life in a
new country face; and the atrocities of the Holocaust.
The typesetting and layout of the text are appropriate and easy to
read. The cover, however, may not appeal to the eye of a young adult
reader. Additional colour or different background would have helped keep
Junior and Intermediate readers from passing over this book because of
its dull cover.
The format and content are ideal for a class novel study. A variety
of topics -- the Holocaust; multiculturalism, prejudice, war, and
refugees, to name a few -- could be the basis of discussions or thematic
studies. The novel has many curricular uses and teacher's guide is available.
Slava's story is one that the current generation needs to hear.
The Old Brown Suitcase is a BC Book Prize Winner and it
would be an excellent addition for school, public, and personal libraries.
Janie Wilkins is currently on leave from her position as an elementary
school teacher in Kingston, Ontario to earn a Masters of Library and
Information Science from the University of Western Ontario.
To comment on this title or this review, send mail to email@example.com.
Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
The Manitoba Library Association
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - October 13, 1995.
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