A blog that discusses literature for young people.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Once" by Morris Gleitzman

Once follows the story of Felix, a young Jewish boy growing up in Poland during the Holocaust.

In an effort to protect him from the horrors of the time, Felix's parents hide him in a isolated hill-top orphanage. One day, after 3 years and 8 months of waiting for his parent to return, Felix witnesses a carload of Nazi's arrive at the orphanage. He is horrified as they proceed to burn all the books in the library. In his naivety Felix decides that the Nazi's must have something against books, and being that his parents own a book shop he decides that they must be in mortal danger. So he runs away from the orphanage to track them down.

The Holocaust is a topic that's been tackled by countless authors but in Once, Gleitzman takes a slightly different approach. The story is told as a first person narrative, in the voice of a child. The innocent simplicity of Felix's observations work to soften some of the horrors of the story. At times Gleitzman even manages to create a humourous effect when he allows Felix to come up with all sorts of wild hypothesis in an effort to explain the evil behaviour that he witnesses.

Parallels can be drawn between this book and Gleitzman's two other most recently published works, Boy Overboard and Girl Overboard. These books also examine serious topics such as the war in Afghanistan and the plight of refugees through a child’s eyes.

I can't say that I really enjoyed this book. On the whole I found it overly simplistic, to the point where it almost took on a patronising tone. I also felt that the ending was weak, with Felix and his best friend Zelda managing a freakish escape to freedom while everyone else was left on the train, travelling towards almost certain death.

I still much prefer Gleitzman's early works such as Misery Guts and Two Weeks with the Queen.

To check out Jane Sullivan's article about Morris Glieitzman, Seeking the Child Inside (The Age, 10th July, 2004) click here.


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