Thursday, July 6, 2006

Just Read: "Run, Boy, Run" by Uri Orlev

Just Finished: Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev, translated by Hillel Halkin, 2003, 0618164650

One of the best books I have read in a while. Orlev's novel is about an eight year old boy, Srulik, who is separated from his family in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto in '42 or so. Srulik was digging for food in a trash bin while his mother waited, when he came out from the bin his mother was gone. Unable to find his mother and not knowing his street address, he takes up with a group of older orphans. Stealing at night and playing soccer during the day the kids decide to escape the ghetto. Srulik escapes, is separated from the group, and eventually gets to the forest where he joins another orphan group and learns to survive in the woods. Changing his name to the non-Semitic Jurek he spends the next three years on his own alternately living in the forest or working for farmers.

One time while escaping from German soldiers Jurek is crawling through a field and sees a man lying down in front of him. "The man was lying on the ground too. His hair was matted and wild and his lined, ashen face was covered with a growth of beard. Srulik realized he was a Jew like himself. He kept crawling until he was close enough to whisper: 'Get out of here! The Germans are after me.'"

The man was his father who had earlier escaped from the Ghetto and gone missing. In a two to three minute conversation Jurek's father gives him quick instructions on staying alive, tells him to survive no matter what, gives him a kiss, and then sacrifices himself by jumping up and running away to draw the soldiers from Jurek.

Under constant threat of capture by the Germans, Jurek's freindly personality, orphan status, and blond hair get him work with different farms. Captured by the Gestapo he is sent to work for a Gestapo officer's Polish girlfriend. While operating a thresher Jurek's right arm is crushed. After a doctor refuses to operate on a Jewish kid Jurek's arm has to be amputated. Jurek escapes the hospital with a farmhand's help and works his way east to be "adopted" by a Russian soldier.

At war's end Jurek arrives in Warsaw and is taken in by a Catholic family. Over the past three years Jurek has pretended to be Catholic and is confirmed alongside the family's son. Having finally found a family he can safely stay with Jurek resists the attempts by Jewish organizations who want to re-unite orphans with their family and culture. Forcibly captured and taken to an orphanage Jurek remembers his true name is Srulik and through the help of a orphanage worker remembers enough to return to his home village and discover what happened to his family. After university in Poland he emigrated to Israel, married, and taught mathematics.

Based on Jurek's true story that Orlev first heard at a university function in Israel. I wonder if Srulik and Solomon Perel (author of Europa, Europa) ever got together to compare notes.

20 Apr 2012 EDIT: Forgotten Books is linking here today, I re-read this book for a book club. My reactions after second reading:

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