Review of The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver


thepuppetboyThis book has been buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

When his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

Yes… this is a story of endurance and bravery during the darkest time for Europe during World War II, when Jews were systematically targeted for no other reason than they were a distinct ethnic group that made them an easy scapegoat. Young Mika discovers the small puppets and uses them to create an escape from the increasingly grim reality around them – and then is prompted to share them with those around him, until a German soldier forces him to entertain the troops with his little shows.

There are times when I was concerned the story would tip into sentimentality – but fortunately Weaver managed to avoid going there. Her graphic descriptions of the full horror of the Jewish ghetto is unflinching, along with the fate of the inhabitants once they are rounded up and the neighbourhood is emptied… However, I have read books where that aspect has been fully covered with perhaps more technical dexterity – Weaver’s dialogue at times is clunky which does detract from some of the emotional intensity in some of those crucial scenes. However, what made this offering stand out for me, is that her narrative doesn’t end with the war. I really liked the fact that unlike so many survivor tales I’ve previously read, this one doesn’t end on some triumphant note once hostilities come to an end. Because those caught up in such a bloody, dehumanising business are never free of it – the issue then becomes how they can best deal with those experiences once life returns to normal.

While I had found Mika’s story reasonably engrossing, it is Max’s tale that made me want to read far into the night. It was wrenching to read of his terrible trek from the Russian gulag and then struggle so profoundly to fit back into the family that had been the impetus for his fight for survival during the darkest times in the prison camp. It was this story strand that, for me, sang off the pages.

I would add that this isn’t a read for the faint-hearted – Weaver hasn’t held back from vividly recreating the misery and horror that occurs when far too many people are crammed into a space not equipped for the numbers, without sufficient food. But it left me musing on the nature of survival, guilt and responsibility and I’m glad I’ve read it. If you are interested in reading something that takes the events of WWII and spools them forward to follow the protagonists long after the last shot is fired, then track it down – it’s worth it.

5 responses »

  1. I’ve never heard of the book, and to be honest, I try to steer away of the accounts written by people who didn’t live in Poland or didn’t have families in Poland. Their stories tend to ring “untrue” to me (my friend had the same problem with “Child 44” some time ago – it didn’t feel real, “Russian” enough): not only in my high school times I was obliged to read multiple stories and novels, by the people who actually survived the ghetto, the camps, and the war, but I also have friends whose grandparents died in Warsaw Uprising and I heard my grandmother’s stories of being sent to Germany, to their work camps.
    But that’s me ranting.
    Have you ever read “The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman” by Andrzej Szczypiorski? (The Polish title means “The Beginning”)
    I wonder how would you compare the two books if you did.

    • I haven’t read ‘The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman’ and wouldn’t have gone out and bought a copy of ‘The Puppet Boy’ – it was given to me. But I THINK Weaver had a Polish grandfather who was in the ghetto, which was one of the reasons why she wrote the book… It certainly is doesn’t pull any punches regarding the awfulness of the situation – and I did like the fact that the stories continue after the war is over. But I can certainly appreciate your position. Have you read ‘The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman’?

      • I’ve read her post and it didn’t indicate any Polish/Jewish family. And for all I know, she might have written a good book, I’m just not keen on being disappointed if she didn’t. You know, like people who won’t go to the cinema to see their fav book on screen to avoid disappointment.
        As for “The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman” – yes, I’ve read it. I consider it a beautiful book even though it touches an uneasy subject and doesn’t sugarcoat. (Regardless of the title, Mrs Seidenman is not really a protagonist of this story, just one of the several people trying to survive the war).

      • I completely understand your reasons for not going there… There are a bunch of books I won’t read for a host of reasons other than their quality or otherwise, touching on subjects that due to my own life experiences, I have no wish to read about. I’ll look out ‘The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman’ and thank you for the recommendation.

      • You’re welcome. If you do, let me know how you liked it (well, I guess if you like it enough there’s going to be a review 😉 ) and I’m especially curious on how you’d compare it to the Puppet Boy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.