________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 8. . . .October 28, 2016


Another Me.

Eva Wiseman.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2016.
233 pp., hardcover & epub. $21.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-716-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-718-4 (epub).

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**** /4




FEBRUARY 7, 1349
The Angel of Death is hovering over the city of Strasbourg as the boy makes his way home. It’s so dark that he can barely see his feet as he scurries across the town square. His mind is full of her. He can still feel the silkiness of her hair beneath his fingers, still see the dimples quivering at the corners of her lips as she smiles. He can still hear her sweet voice soothing his spirits.

The cathedral bells break his reverie. He is so startled that he stops in his tracks, almost slipping on the icy cobblestones. Then he sees them on the other side of the plaza – three shadowy figures heading directly toward him. He hopes they won’t notice him. His clothes are dark and he pulls down the hood of his cloak to discover his face. Just then, the moon escapes the clouds and kisses the yellow badge on his chest. He clamps his hand over it to make it disappear and wills himself to stand completely still, just another shadow in the vast square.
“Who’s there?” cries a harsh voice.


“Prologue” concludes with a cliff-hanging closing sentence, “The blade descends...”, a sentence which will propel readers into the book’s first section, “NATAN’S STORY”, which locates the story’s place and time:


     There, readers meet Natan, 17, and his eight-year-old brother, Shmuli, who live on Judenstrasse, “the Street of the Jews”. The boys’ father makes a living by purchasing secondhand clothing that he, in turn, sells to the members of the Drapers Guild who then convert the used fabric “into luxurious garments for their wealthy customers.” The Jews of Strasbourg live in a state of uneasy tension with the city’s Christian majority. Although the Jewish community pays “protection” money to the city council, those monies do not prevent isolated acts of violence, such as the unprovoked beating Natan’s father receives. With his father unable to work, Natan takes a cartload of fabric to Drapers’ Row, specifically to the shop of Wilhelm the draper whom Natan’s father describes as being “more honest with us than his colleagues in his guild.” There, Natan meets “the most beautiful girl I had ever seen”, Elena, Wilhelm’s daughter and a Christian. And so begins the Romeo & Juliet secret and forbidden-love portion of the book. Should the pair’s “fraternization” be discovered, minimally they face being put in the stockades by the authorities. Complicating matters for Elena is that she is also being “courted” by her father’s physically unattractive journeyman, Hans.

     When readers reach p. 48 and Chapter 6, many will undoubtedly feel a sense of déjà vu as the chapter opens with the sentence: “The Angel of Death was hovering over the city of Strasbourg as I made my way home.” This chapter begins by repeating the Prologue’s contents, but now it’s being told from Natan’s point of view, and the Prologue’s cliff-hanging sentence finds its conclusion:

”You [Natan] won't have the chance [to expose us],” he [Kaspar] said as he lifted his knife high into the air. It glinted coldly in the moonlight as it descended. The pain and darkness, and finally...oblivion.”

     In a most unusual plot twist, Wiseman has killed her novel’s central character! However, this is the point where the meaning of the book’s title, Another Me, becomes clear. Though Natan is physically dead, his “soul” or “spirit” finds a new “host body” in Hans, the journeyman draper and Elena’s unwanted suitor, who, in a drunken state, had stumbled upon the killing. When Hans had touched Natan’s body to see if he was still alive, the “transfer” occurred, and the “Another Me” finds himself with a single purpose: “There was just one thought in my mind - I must save my people!”

     The immediate challenge for Natan is to convince others significant in his life that, though they see the physical Hans, they are actually communicating with Natan. The first person Natan must win over is Elena, and Wiseman adds another stylistic twist by parallelling the story via “ELENA”S STORY” and “NATAN’S STORY” sections throughout the rest of the book. Seeking advice from his rabbi, Natan learns that he has become:

“An ibbur ... This occurs when a righteous person’s soul takes up residence in another’s body”


“It happens when someone’s time here on this earth ends before he can fulfill a promise or complete a task important to our people. Before you were killed, you were unable to warn the Ammeister [head of the city council] that the Jews of Strasbourg did not poison the community well to cause the Great Pestilence. It is Hashem’s [a Hebrew word for God] will that you save our people from the false accusations being made against them. Without doubt, the fate of the Jews in our city rests in your hands....”

     The larger issue for Natan for the rest of the book is how he, in the body of Hans, will save the city’s Jews, and Wiseman provides him with numerous challenges, including deceit and betrayal by the city’s leadership. Though Natan succeeds, his success does not come in the form he had expected. As well, Natan must also resolve his relationship with Elena who recognizes and loves the Natan within the body of Hans, but who cannot help but recoil at “Hans’” touch.

     As occurs in the best of historical fiction, Wiseman smoothly integrates historical information into her storyline, and, for instance, readers will come to learn how the guild system of the period excluded Jews from most occupations and left them filling roles, especially in finance, which created anger and jealousy amongst Christians. When the Black Death arrives in Strasbourg, Wiseman weaves information concerning how the differing sanitary practices of the period’s Christians and Jews contributed to higher death rates amongst Christians.

     The book concludes with one of “ELENA”S STORY” sections as well as an “Epilogue” she provides. An “Author’s Note” clarifies the historical base for the book, and a three-page “Glossary” defines 18 terms which might be unfamiliar to the book’s readers.

     Wiseman’s best yet!

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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