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Against the backdrop of Czar Nicholas I's reign, when more than fifty thousand Jewish boys were forcibly conscripted into military service, twelve-year-old Mendel Cholinsky escapes to America.
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When his astonished enemy Dovid, a bully who tormented him back in their Russian village, asks why Mendel has risked his life to save Dovid's, Mendel--trying to fathom his own motives- -can only reply, ``I had to close a circle.'' He is recalling his father's words: ``All growing things live and die in a circle...My knowledge is part of a circle from my grandfather...to me...and now to you...it is when you give that you gain power...Only then do you become a circlemaker.'' At 12, Mendel has fled from the forcible induction of Jewish boys into the czar's army; by coincidence, one of the men who helps him toward the Hungarian border pairs him with Dovid--who has just escaped from the army--for the journey's last leg. Though Dovid is far less vicious than Zed in Carol Matas's Sworn Enemies (1993, a YA novel about two older boys entrapped by the czar's army), he remains antagonistic and abusive even as the two help each other; but unlike Zed, he shows signs of response to a generosity that grows out of his unwilling companion's deeply rooted faith. Schur touches on the army's horror when Dovid recounts his experience of it, but centers on Mendel's journey and the courage and kindness he meets along the way. The genuinely evoked setting and circumstances and the plucky boy's narrow escapes compel attention; the fact that he's last seen boarding a ship, penniless but hoping to find an aunt in New York, suggests a sequel. (Fiction. 9-12) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From School Library Journal:
Grade 5-7-Mendel is 12 in 1852 when Czar Nicholas's soldiers come through his small Ukrainian town looking for Jewish conscripts. Knowing that his parents will risk their lives to protect him, he runs away. He is helped by a mysterious freedom fighter who pairs him with another fugitive-Dovid, the town bully. Their dangerous trip to the Hungarian border teaches Mendel what his devout father meant when he said "only the closed circle can keep us whole." The final chapter sees him on his way to a new life in New York, and the ending is open enough to allow for a sequel. The pacing of the text is excellent-there is sufficient time between periods of action to allow readers to assimilate the gravity of the boys' situation, and sufficient tension to hold interest. The setting is well realized, as is the danger. Characterization, however, is weak. Mendel's feelings on leaving his parents are described but do not seem truly felt, and though indications are given as to why Dovid is such an inhuman thug, he remains a two-dimensional figure. More depth is achieved in Karen Hesse's Letters from Rifka (Holt, 1992). However, this adventure story serves well to re-create its historical period.
Ann Welton, Terminal Park Elementary School, Auburn, WA
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Book Description Dial, 1994. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0803713541
Book Description Dial Books, 1994. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0803713541