Thursday, June 9, 2011
Book Review: How Huge the Night
"Isn't that beautiful, Julien?"
I was disappointed with how disconnected I felt while reading this one. Typically I seek out holocaust (and world war II) books because usually I enjoy them very much. I have come to expect them to be emotional, intense, compelling. I didn't find that to be the case with How Huge the Night.
Julien Losier, our hero, is miserable and unhappy. The threat of war (and then war itself) has turned his life upside down. It has led to his family moving from Paris to Tanieux--a Southern town with a rich historical legacy of welcoming refugees, welcoming those who have been persecuted.
Julien is most unhappy to share his home, his family, his social life (what little he has) with Benjamin Keller, a Jewish boy who is boarding with the family. When war does become official, when the Nazis do invade France, the boy remains safely with the family--despite the fact that there is no way for Benjamin's family to "pay" his room and board any longer.
Julien is unhappy because he's a social misfit in this new town. Every boy in his class seems to reject him. He's not chosen to play on either team when it comes to soccer. Which to Julien is the end of the world. You'd think it was truly a life and death matter. Just as serious as the fate of the Jews in Germany and Austria, etc.
But this isn't Julien's story alone. Throughout the novel, readers get occasional glimpses of Nina (Niko) and her brother Gustav, two Jewish "brothers" trying to escape Austria and find a safe place. Nina doubts such a safe place exists. Where can they go that the Nazis don't follow? Readers, of course, can predict that these two stories must connect--eventually.
It would have been nice, perhaps, to see the story from Benjamin's point of view. To know how he felt about sharing space with Julien--if he saw Julien as being all me, me, me. If he felt like there was a heavy weight on his shoulders--the burden of worry knowing that he may never see his family again, the worry of what might happen if the Nazis do come this far south, the worry that the world may never be "safe" for Jews again.
I had a hard time liking Julien. I really did. I suppose that was the point. That the fact that there's a war on doesn't automatically make teenage boys saints and heroes. The fact that even though there's all this uncertainty, all this chaos, in the world--with Germany invading European countries, with Germany's agenda for persecuting Jews--Julien still thinks that soccer is the most essential thing in life ever, that being popular, being liked, is ever-important.
Did I like How Huge the Night? Not really. Reading is subjective. And I suppose it could be that I just wasn't in the right mood for this one. But it was hard for me to read this one. Not because it was emotionally difficult--not because I cared too much--but because I cared too little.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible