Auslander by Paul Dowswell
|Auslander by Paul Dowswell|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A well-researched and pacy WWII thriller about a Polish orphan taken in by a Nazi family because of his Aryan appearance. It's thoughtful and exciting - the perfect combination. Recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: March 2009|
Peter's parents died in a car crash shortly after the Nazis had occupied Poland. Life under occupation hadn't been too bad for Peter's family; classified as Germanic rather than Slav, their lives had continued relatively normally. In fact, Peter isn't too disturbed by the Nazis - he'd never felt particularly at home in his village, what with his blond hair, blue eyes and general ubermensch look. But without his parents, Peter's life is dreadul. He misses them like mad, and the orphanage is a miserable place. There's little food and bullying is rife. So when the Race and Settlement Office classify Peter as racially valuable, he's very happy to be sent to Germany and to be taken in by racial scientist Professor Kaltenbach and his family.
But the Kaltenbachs are 100 percenters - completely commited to the Nazi cause - and Peter is an intelligent boy with independent thoughts. He doesn't like them referring to Ivans and Polacks and dirty Jews. He doesn't like seeing starving slave workers in the street. He feels a trifle uncomfortable at Hitler Youth meetings and he does rather wonder if the war is going as well as everybody says. So he starts to take some serious risks. He listens to the BBC World Service, he goes to jazz parties, and gives food to the untermensch.
But that's just the beginning for Peter...
This is a remarkably well-researched historical novel. Berlin under the Nazis comes alive in all its cold ambition. Readers get a real picture of life under an authoritarian and nationalist regime and they can see how easy it is to succumb to dangerous jingoism and also how quickly you can learn to treat others in ways you'd never have dreamed you could. They can also see how difficult it is to stand alone. There are many interesting and accurate touches - Peter's maths textbooks contain the exact propagandised language real Nazi textbooks did - how many aeroplanes carrying how many bombs do you think it would take to kill how many filthy Jews?. The Kaltenbach's Christmas tree is decorated with illuminated plastic swastikas - these were genuinely popular at the time.
But also, it's a tremendously tense and pacy thriller. As Peter's moral consciousness gradually awakes, and as he begins to find like-minded people, and as the truth of Professor Kaltenbachs's racial experiments come to light, so he also takes more and more risks with his already precarious position as a fostered child of a defeated people. Some passages are truly chilling, and even I was quickly turning the last few pages to see how it all turned out.
I thoroughly enjoyed Auslander and I think I learned something too. I think this will hold as true for its target audience. If we don't learn the lessons history has to teach us, then we don't have too much hope for the future, do we?
My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
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