Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Review: Somewhere There Is Still a Sun

About the Book:
Resilience shines throughout a boy’s firsthand, present-tense account of life in the Terezin concentration camp during the Holocaust, an ideal companion to the bestselling Boy on the Wooden Box.

Michael “Misha” Gruenbaum enjoyed a carefree childhood playing games and taking walks through Prague with his beloved father. All of that changed forever when the Nazis invaded Prague. The Gruenbaum family was forced to move into the Jewish Ghetto in Prague. Then, after a devastating loss, Michael, his mother and sister were deported to the Terezin concentration camp.

At Terezin, Misha roomed with forty other boys who became like brothers to him. Life in Terezin was a bizarre, surreal balance—some days were filled with friendship and soccer matches, while others brought mortal terror as the boys waited to hear the names on each new list of who was being sent “to the East.”

Those trains were going to Auschwitz. When the day came that his family’s name appeared on a transport list, their survival called for a miracle—one that tied Michael’s fate to a carefully sewn teddy bear, and to his mother’s unshakeable determination to keep her children safe.

Collaborating with acclaimed author Todd Hasak-Lowy, Michael Gruenbaum shares his inspiring story of hope in an unforgettable memoir that recreates his experiences with stunning immediacy. Michael’s story, and the many original documents and photos included alongside it, offer an essential contribution to Holocaust literature.

My Comments:
You'll see above that Somewhere There Is Still a Sun has two authors, Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowey.  This is the story of Michael's childhood, a childhood of a Jewish boy born in Prague in 1930.  Those of us who know history know that means he spent WWII in hiding or prison.  As noted above, Michael, his mother and his sister (his father has already been killed by the Nazis) were sent to Terezin and were there until the camp was liberated.  This is the story of those years.  The Afterward of the book talks about how it came to be written.  Todd Hasak-Lowy worked with Gruenbaum to tell the story.  While Guenbaum had some memories of those years (and his mother's memory book); it was nowhere near enough to write a book.  Hasak-Lowy took it further, doing research on Terezin and its survivors.  As he developed information, Hasak-Lowy would consult with Guenbaum.  Finally, the book was written from Micheal's point of view, and including things Michael remembered, but also including imaginary characters and imaginary dialogue.  Hasak-Lowy said that this technique allowed him to tell a story that is more true than just the memories alone, and I agree.  What is so easy to forget is that the Nazi's didn't kill a crowd, they didn't torture a crowd, they didn't starve a crowd; they did those things to millions of individual people who had to live daily life under those circumstances.  Somewhere There Is Still a Sun tells the story, not from the view of a dispassionate observer, but from the view of someone living through it. 

The book was written for middle school children and I think it is very appropriate for that age group.  Michael's father is killed early in the book but it isn't until the endnotes, not part of the story, that we find out how he died.  I'm sure Michel's mother did not tell him the gory details until he was an adult, and as she protected him, so the reader is protected until the end.  One thing that I think both makes the book appropriate for this age group, and yet also blunts the horror of the Holocaust is that Michael, his mother and his sister all survive.  They were never unable to see each other and Michael did not witness the murder of loved ones. Looking back on his days in Terezin after the liberation, Michael has some good memories.  Toward the end of the book, Auschwitz survivors, some of whom he knew in Terezin, are brought back to Terezin, and Micheal learns what happened at the end of the ride on the train his mother worked hard to keep them off of.   That scene makes sure the reader knows "the rest of the story" without actually killing off people to whom the reader has become emotionally attached.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  Grade:  A.


  1. We read "The Diary of Anne Frank" in 8th grade and did a unit of Holocaust literature. We also have/had a number of survivors in the area so they came and spoke to us and I actually remember hearing them at least once a year (different people each time) from probably 6th grade on up. What surprised me is that these were some of the most optimistic and upbeat people I have ever met, even talking about enduring what they did in the camps!

  2. Anonymous12:38 PM

    I still want to know what the teddy bear is about

    1. His mother's job in the camp was making teddy bears for the Germans, and the fact that the right person wanted a bear that hadn't been produced yet kept her and her family off the train to Auchwitz


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