Sep 22, 2008

Eleanor's Story

Eleanor Ramrath Garner, Eleanor's Story: An American Girl in Hitler's Germany, 2003, Peachtree Publishers.

The year Eleanor Ramrath turned ten, her parents moved the family back to Germany practically on the eve of Germany's invasion of Poland, and the subsequent outbreak of World War II. What was supposed to be a two year stint for her father to work as an electrical engineer turns into the family being forced to remain in Germany until the war is over. Living in Berlin, the family experiences the war firsthand, undergoing nightly bombing raids by the Allies, rationing, fear for their status as enemy aliens, and the constant hope they will emerge from this war able to return to America.

This book is one of my first forays into Young Adult Non-Fiction. I thought the plot was an interesting spin on the war-time memoir. Instead of the experience of an American living in the United States or a German living in Germany, Ramrath has the unique story of the experience of living as a German-American citizen in Nazi Germany. From the beginning you wonder if the parents will be allowed back into their adopted nation when the war is over (Ramrath and her older brother Frank were both born in the United States, her father was a naturalized citizen but her mother still had German citizenship).

The part of the book Ramrath does best are her vivid descriptions of how her physical environment changes over the years, months, and even hours of the war. You will not be able to forget the fates of those trapped under a neighboring apartment building. Nor will you fail to appreciate how devastating the bombings were to the city of Berlin. What Ramrath does NOT do well is to write about the physical and verbal abuse her father subjected his children to. She glosses over these aspects of her childhood as though it were the standard for anyone growing up during that time, which frankly I'm skeptical about. Ramrath also does poorly in describing what was happening to the Jewish citizens of Germany at this time. There is only one anecdote that deals with the treatment of these citizens (Her brother gives up his seat to an elderly Jewish woman and is screamed at by a fellow subway passenger). At a later point in the book she claims to have stumbled upon a "slave labor" camp, yet at the end of the book she makes the statement that she thought what happened to millions of people was a rumor until she was taught about it in history class upon her return to the US.

While I feel strongly about my critiques I also realize that the reason she glosses over much of this is because of her audience. She probably feels that it was not appropriate to discuss such topics as child abuse and the Holocaust to her projected audience. It brings up an interesting question to my mind, how much is too much discussion of such difficult issues in YA literature? I'm not sure myself as of yet. Probably once I read more I'll have a better answer for you.

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