I am David

Twelve-year-old David has never known anything but life in a Communist concentration camp. He doesn’t know why he’s there or who his family is, and he doesn’t expect life to ever be any different than it is. But when a guard gives him the opportunity to escape, he must come to terms with a world he is unprepared to live in.

Anne Holm’s I am David is not so much an escape story (although it is that), but a story of personal transformation. At the beginning of the story, David mistrusts everyone. When the guard offers him a chance to escape, he tells himself that “[it was] certainly a trap”. Not realising that Italy, the country where he travels to first, is not a Communist country, he is suspicious of everyone. Everyone may be one of them, or if not one of them, liable to hand him over to them at any moment. As he experiences acts of kindness from strangers, however, he slowly begins to recognise and trust goodness.

Despite being on the run, David finds joy in the new-found, hard-won beauty and freedom that he experiences. But as the story progresses, he learns that beauty and freedom are not enough in order to be happy….

“He should never have entered the house. Maria … Whenever he had looked at Maria and she had made him smile, he had been aware that there was something he had forgotten, something important.

He had forgotten the most important condition that made it possible for him to go on living: that he should never again grow fond of anyone. When Johannes died he thought he would die too. But when he had recovered and knew he was not going to die, he realized that he must never, never care for anyone again – never. That was what he had kept in mind through all the years that followed – until he saw Maria.

And now nothing would ever be the same again: even if they were not looking for him, even if he could preserve his liberty and could avoid being too cold or too hungry. It would never be the same again, because he would always have to remain himself, a boy who belonged nowhere.”

Of course, the story doesn’t end there, but I won’t give away the rest of David’s journey and transformation. I will say that I am David is one of the best children’s novels I’ve read. As a young boy’s perspective on a new and strange world, it’s masterful. The story is raw and real, but it’s also beautiful and poignant without being in any way saccharine. It’s well worth reading as an adult, so if you missed this in your childhood, you can make up for it now….

 

 

 

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Crossing to Safety

I like books with happy endings. A marriage. A rescue. A homecoming. A battle won. Ends neatly tied up, and the illusion of “happily ever after” created.

This isn’t, however, Wallace Steger’s approach in his novel Crossing to Safety. The story begins at the end: with four ageing people, one of whom is dying of cancer. Through several extended flashbacks, Stegner traces the friendship between the two couples, Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang, over the course of about three decades, before bringing the reader back to death’s shadow as the book closes.

The Morgans and Langs meet as young couples, when Sid and Larry are on the cusp of their academic careers. Sid and Larry appear not to have caught each other’s attention at the university, but when Sid’s wife Charity is introduced to the Morgans at a social function, it is impossible for the couples not to become friends, just like it’s always impossible not to do exactly what Charity wants. With her dazzling smile and her italicised speech, and with the best intentions in the world, she takes possession of the Morgans, and nothing is ever the same for them again.

It’s not surprising, then, that Charity is the focal point of the story, and both its sunshine and its shadow. At her best, she’s heart-warming, irresistible even, and at her worst she is absolutely infuriating. In both cases it’s for the same reason: she truly wants what is best for everyone and she will willingly make any sacrifice in order to ensure that what is best happens. The difficulty, however, is that she is always absolutely certain that she knows what “best” is, even in the face of evidence that is overwhelmingly to the contrary.

For Larry and Sally, Charity’s kindly-meant interventions are often blessings—poor and friendless, they may never have achieved the success and stability that they eventually achieved without her. But the Langs’ awareness of how much they owe to Charity does not blind them to the fact that her penchant for control causes misery to her husband, Sid. “She has to be boss”, Larry reflects to Sally. “Maybe she tells him when to wash his hands and brush his teeth. I don’t suppose she can help it, but she’s as blunt as a spitting maul.”

Crossing to Safety is a reflective novel, tinged with sadness. “Leave a mark on the world”, Larry muses. “Instead, the world has left marks on us. We got older. Life chastened us so that now we lie waiting to die, or walk on canes, or sit on porches where once the young juices flowed strongly, and feel old and inept and confused.” Life is hard, and Crossing to Safety doesn’t pretend that it’s not. When I finished it, I couldn’t help but think how pointless and hopeless life is without God. What is success, without Him? How does one face death, without Him? But looking back, I can see that the novel shows, too, how a difficult life can still be a good life, how something hard can even be “a rueful blessing”.

If you like novels that keep you on the edge of your seat, Crossing to Safety might not be for you. If you’re a die-hard happy endings person, it might not be for you. But if you like beautifully-written, thought-provoking stories, you just might like this one.

Dear March, Come In!

DEAR March, come in!

How glad I am!

I looked for you before.

Put down your hat—

You must have walked—

How out of breath you are!

Dear March, how are you?

And the rest?

Did you leave Nature well?

Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,

I have so much to tell!

 

I got your letter, and the bird’s;

The maples never knew

That you were coming,—I declare,

How red their faces grew!

But, March, forgive me—

And all those hills

You left for me to hue;

There was no purple suitable,

You took it all with you.

 

Who knocks? That April!

Lock the door!

I will not be pursued!

He stayed away a year, to call

When I am occupied.

But trifles look so trivial

As soon as you have come,

That blame is just as dear as praise

And praise as mere as blame.

 

Happy 1st March, everyone, from Emily Dickinson and me! As far as I’m concerned, spring has sprung.