The Devil’s Arithmetic

“We all have such stories. It is a brutal arithmetic. But I–I am alive. You are alive. As long as we breathe, we can see and hear. As long as we can remember, all those gone before are alive inside of us.”

Last year I read Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, a beautiful retelling of the fairy tale as a holocaust story. I have just finished listening to another one of her books, The Devil’s Arithmetic, a story of the holocaust for young adult readers. It, too, was beautifully written and a very powerful story, and the audiobook was beautifully read by Barbara Rosenblat.

Hannah is a young girl who is “tired of remembering.” She doesn’t understand or appreciate the family rituals of remembering family members and friends that were lost in the holocaust, and she doesn’t want to hear those stories of the past again and again. But during the family’s Seder, when she “opens the front door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she is transported to a polish village — and the year is 1942.” She become “Chaya” (which means “life”) and she experiences the holocaust first-hand.

It’s a powerful experience to read this book or listen to the audiobook version. There’s not a word out of place. It was honest and riveting, (which is such a Jane Yolen thing) and it was heartbreaking. But it was also full of hope … if we remember.

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11 thoughts on “The Devil’s Arithmetic

  1. Nan

    Oh my gosh, I love this book to pieces! Excellent, excellent book. Thank you for drawing attention to it, Robin. I hope lots of people will read it now.

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  2. Robin

    I love this book, too, Nan! And I do hope lots of people will read it. It’s so important and so beautifully written.

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  3. J.Danger

    I love Holocaust books. I have not hear of this one yet. I will have to go grab it. Thanks for putting the word out.

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  4. Robin

    Thanks, Nymeth. I think you’d really appreciate this book, especially because it was written by Jane Yolen, so you know it’s excellent.

    Jenclair, you’re right on both counts — it’s a must read and an emotional experience… but it leaves you with hope.

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  5. Kim

    My kids both read the book as part of their 4th or 5th grade reading curriculum, it’s a moving book and appropriate way to handle the topic for that age group. Great review.

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  6. Kim

    It was Number the Stars that they read in 4th or 5th grade, I got the books confused which I hope that anyone with teenagers and over 45 understands, both children’s books, both having to do with math and the Holocaust. The Devil’s Arithmetic is great, but not sure for 4th grade!

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  7. Robin

    Oh, that makes more sense to me, Kim — I’ve used Number the Stars in 5th grade, but The Devil’s Arithmetic seems to be more of a middle school book. Both are wonderful resources in the classroom, however!

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