I hesitate to review this. I met Jim Shepard in March and heard him read the opening of 'The Book of Aron' just prior to publication. It was a fantastic delivery of a deeply compelling story. I wondered how it would hold up, this Holocaust story told through a child's perspective, by comparison to Anthony Doerr's 'All the Light We Cannot See,' which I'd read for the purpose of working with that author the same week. (If you're at all inclined to apply for the Sirenland Writers Conference, by all means, DO. It's a big investment in time, travel, and money, but did you just read that paragraph above? Seriously, do it).
Oh my, this novel holds up. I hadn't read the reviews. I didn't even read the blurbs on the back, and I'm grateful to the universe that I was led to this book by entirely organic and encouraging ways... The interviews and jacket copy all ought to have spoiler alerts. I can't believe I got to experience this young boy Aron's life in the Warsaw ghetto as Shepard unrolled it, much like the protagonist, never knowing what would happen when I turned the page. And boy, did I turn them fast.
It's an important book -- a word people sometimes use for a book without humor -- but this one, even in its darkest moments, reveals shafts of lightness and light. And yes, you'll learn something about history, about the Holocaust, about Poland and Warsaw and the Nazi invasion, and power and crowding and the complexities of heroism, jealousy, weakness, hunger, family, and fear. And typhus. And a lot of lice.
Yes, I'm skirting the issues of plot here, and even character... on purpose. Just read it.