Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Big War: Good Night, Maman by Norma Fox Mazer

Karin Levi, her older brother Marc, and their Maman have been hiding from the Germans in Mme. Zetain's attic for a year when she confronts them:

Madame Zetain folded her hands over her belly. "You have to leave," she said. "People are talking. This is a small town, and they talk.... they are saying that I'm hiding Jews. You have to go, all of you. Tonight."

With that matter-of-fact dismissal, the Levis begin a dangerous journey to the south, hoping to escape across the Italian border. Sleeping in barns and helped occasionally by sympathetic farmers, they finally arrive in the Provence city of Valence and are taken in by a member of the Resistance who is hiding Jewish families in his house, sometimes beneath a false floor under his coal bin. Jean Taubert has fallen under suspicion, however, and after the house is searched by the Germans repeatedly, the Levis determine to try to walk to the Allied-held areas of southern Italy. Maman, however, is very ill and she begs the children to go on without her.

Marc and Karin keep to the mountainous backbone of the Italian peninsula and miraculously, with the help of Resistance sympathizers, finally arrive in Naples where a ship commissioned by President Roosevelt, the Henry Gibbins, is loading Jewish refugees to take to America. Because they have a great aunt in California, Marc and Karin are allowed to board and make the perilous Atlantic crossing. They then begin a year in a detainment camp in Oswego, New York. Despite the trauma of losing their mother, whom Marc finally admits is dead, Karin and Marc thrive and make friends in their American school. The novel ends with the children, grieving still for their lost parents and lost lives, ready to move on to a new life in California.

Based on the historical records of the Henry Gibbins' refugees, Norma Fox Mazer's Good Night, Maman, like the previously reviewed When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and A Pocket Full of Seeds, adds to the literature of the French Holocaust and the French Resistance who helped thousands escape to find their future in the postwar world.

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