Friday, November 13, 2015

A Year of Goodbyes, by Debbie Levy

A whole year of goodbyes would clearly be a turbulent time, especially for a 12-year-old.  In this small book, we experience Jutta Salzberg’s life-changing year of 1938 in Germany as she thinks through all that happens with her family and other Jews under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Author Debbie Levy worked with her mother, the adult Jutta Salzberg, to reveal this true story of many layers, which are reflected in the make-up of the book


We begin with Jutta’s poesiealbum, a kind of autograph book in which friends and family write brief poems, bits of advice, and good wishesAt the beginning of each short chapter, a page of the album appears, along with its English translation, followed by a narrative poem that Debbie Levy created years later based on her mother's memories. The conversational free verse conveys Jutta's young voice, and it allows us to absorb her thoughts and feelings about many events, conversations, and changes one line at a time, rather than in paragraphs like a history.  


Later in the year, pages from Jutta's new diary are added. You may be reminded of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, but The Year of Goodbyes is meant for slightly younger readers, and the outcome of the story is different. Jutta's father had begun very early to seek legal means for the family to emigrate to America. Jutta is aware of his frustrating but unceasing efforts to deal with German and American bureaucracies and to attain sponsorship from one of his relatives in America. His foresight does not spare his family from all the troubles brought on the Jews by the Nazis, but in the end it pays off. 


In the last quarter of the book we uncover other layers of the story. Levy explains the context of Jutta's experience of 1938--the loss of rights and persecution that Jews endured under Hitler before World War II began, the expulsion of some from Germany, and other countries' the strict immigration quotas and non-response to the growing crisis. Then we find out what happened to friends and family members who wrote in the poesiealbum--at least those that Levy could track down through interviews and research. Some emigrated, some got stuck in Jewish ghettos, some went to concentrations camps--and survived them or not, and some even joined the Resistance. The variety in these lives reminds us that World War II and the Holocaust were not just monolithic events, but that they were made up of individuals who were known and loved. At the end of the book, Jutta's photos of her parents and relatives, her home, her schoolmates, her activities, and more make everything real and personal in a way that nothing else could, short of talking with Jutta herself.  And we hardly need to do that, since her heart has been revealed to us already.

The Virginia Beach Public Library catalog has many books, audiobooks, ebooks,and movies through which you can explore various aspects of World War II.  Books for youth include Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust, told in the voices of people from a Nazi transit camp, and The Safest Lie, by Angela Cerritoa fiction story of a girl in Poland and how she survived the war.  Adults might appreciate Bending toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir, which delves into the ways that traumatic experiences may affect future generations.  

Review by Lynn K.

1 comment:

Debbie Levy said...

How lovely to find this post about THE YEAR OF GOODBYES. For educators, librarians, and writing workshoppers, I've just made available a Writing Workshop Guide. It's designed to get readers thinking and writing about connections between the events and people in THE YEAR OF GOODBYES and the experiences of people and communities today. You'll find it here: http://debbielevybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Writing-Workshop-Guide-for-The-Year-of-Goodbyes-by-Debbie-Levy.pdf. Thanks for sharing my book!
- Debbie Levy