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Devorah’s world is shattered by the tragedies of post–Great War Europe: gas poisoning, famine, typhoid, and influenza. Then comes the Night of the Burning, when Cossacks provoke Christian Poles to attack their Jewish neighbors. In 1920, eleven-year-old Devorah and her little sister, Nechama, are the sole survivors of their community. Salvation arrives in the form of a South African philanthropist named Isaac Ochberg, who invites Devorah and Nechama to join his group of two hundred orphans in their journey to safety in South Africa. Although reluctant to leave her homeland, and afraid to forget her family, Devorah follows her sister, who is determined to go to the new country. There Devorah is dealt the greatest blow – Nechama is adopted and taken away from her. In the end, though, Devorah realizes that she is not solely responsible for keeping the past alive, and that she will not betray her beloved parents when she is adopted herself – and finds happiness again.
This gripping first novel, inspired by and based closely on the childhood of the author’s mother-in-law, was recipient of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award. The Night of the Burning is a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
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LINDA PRESS WULF lives in Berkeley, California.From School Library Journal:
Grade 5–8—This first-person narrative is an insightful exploration of the effects of traumatic experiences, and an ultimately hopeful portrait of a young girl. In 1920 Devorah, 11, and her younger sister are the sole Jewish survivors of their Polish village after a pogrom. Protecting Nechama, and remembering their family and heritage, becomes the purpose of Devorah's life. Then Mr. Ochberg arrives at the orphanage and invites them to join other children on a voyage to a new life in Cape Town, South Africa. Nechama insists that she will go, so her sister goes, too. When Nechama is adopted by a wealthy family, Devorah is devastated to be separated from her. Her own adoption by a less wealthy and emotionally restrained couple takes her on a difficult journey toward acceptance of her new life. The historical background in both countries is well portrayed, and Wulf does a masterful job of showing the complexity of relationships among religious and ethnic groups in both societies. The relationships between the protagonist, her adoptive parents, and their domestic worker are particularly well realized. However, the light that shines through this book is the carefully imagined and described process of painful but ultimately positive personal growth that Devorah experiences. An account of the real Devorah's life after the events in the novel and a historical note are appended. Children searching for a place in the world and wondering about the experiences of others in situations of conflict and violence will take this story to their hearts.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
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