'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 3 August 2014

Review: Alexander Altmann A10567

I always wonder whether violent truths can be made palatable for children. In fact, should children be exposed to horrors unnecessarily? How much graphic detail is too much? What will shut children down rather than open their hearts to the plight of those who suffered unconscionable atrocities?

And what about the Holocaust? Do we have a right to shield our young people from such historical realities? Without knowing the terrors of the past, how will our children avoid repeating the same terrible mistakes?

Suzy Zail’s The Wrong Boy walked this tightrope to perfection, building the tension slowly. In stark contrast, Alexander Altmann A10567 opens with terrible scenes of violence. I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to continue if the graphic details were going to escalate.

However, Alexander’s story starts right where it must begin: in the heart of desolation, at a place where all hope really is lost. Alexander struggles with the knowledge that his sister has walked to her death in the gas chambers. He decides that surviving will only be possible if he shuts down his emotions. This story is Alexander’s journey through Auschwitz: a place where he is so battered and bruised that he almost forgets his name. His return to caring comes through his love of horses and tiny, unexpected acts of kindness.

Based on the real life story of Fred Steiner (the WWII prisoner whose number really was A10567) Suzy Zail weaves a tale of hope where there is no reason left to hope, of resilience when everything around tries to supress and destroy, and of caring when all feelings seemed dead.

Alexander Altmann A10567 is not for the faint-hearted. People die horrendous, senseless deaths between its pages. However, Alexander Altmann A10567 is not to be missed if you can manage to push through. The power of one simple act of kindness truly can change the world.

P.S. Not recommended as a bedtime read. I lay bug-eyed for hours as scenes from Alexander Altmann A10567 loop-taped in my mind.

There are teachers' notes available for this novel.

Title: Alexander Altmann A10567
Author: Suzy Zail
Publisher: Black Dog Books. $18.95 RRP
Publication Date: May 2014
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781922179999
For ages: 11+
Type: Young Adult