Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: The Auslander

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
The Auslander by Paul Dowswell is a different kind of German WWII novel ($13.13; Bloomsbury USA Childrens; August 16, 2011). Typically, German WWII novels are narrated by those fighting or escaping the Nazis. This book tells the perspective of a fanatical Nazi family, a “100 percenter,” as they are called in the book.
The tale is about an orphan, thirteen-year-old Peter (Poitr) Bruck from Poland, who is sent to a poor orphanage when his parents are killed by a tank. Peter is Volksdeutsche, of German descent. When a German doctor from the Nazi Race and Settlement Office comes to the orphanage, Peter is “repatriated” to the Fatherland and placed with a German family, who are fervent Nazi believers. Peter tries to fit into his new family, but as the book progresses, he becomes more estranged from them, which explains the title of the book The Auslander, The Foreigner.

What is intriguing about this book is the fact that the reader sees what it was like to live among those who strongly believed in Hitler as Germany’s savior. The reader sees descriptions of Swastika Christmas tree decorations and Nazi textbooks with questions like “The iniquitous Treaty of Versailles, imposed by the French and English, enabled international plutocracy to steal Germany’s colonies. France herself acquired part of Togoland. If German Togoland covers 56 million square kilometers and contains a population of 800,000 people, estimate the average living space per inhabitant” (Dowswell 59).

The Auslander is an exciting book, with well-developed characters and interesting plot twists. The story is well-researched, with locations and times at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader place the story within the context of history (“Warsaw, August 2, 1941”). The book would make a great complement for students studying bioethics or genetics because it tells a lot about the Nazi perspective on race and “pure blood.” It gives arguments about how the Nazis were trying to “strengthen” their people by eliminating the weak and discusses some of their race research projects. Peter’s perspective makes it clear to the reader that what the Nazis are doing is wrong, but the 100 Percenters are so rational in their arguments of “the ends justify the means” that it is useful for teaching students about propaganda and how even the most evil plans can be made to sound benign. The Auslander describes some unsettling medical experiments and deaths, as well as some deaths resulting from the Allied bombing. However, the violence is not overly gruesome. It is appropriate for mature 7th graders and up.

The only thing that I dislike about this book is its point-of-view narrations. The book is told mainly from Peter’s perspective, but every so often a minor or major character narrates a few pages. If Dowswell had been consistent in this perspective change, starting a new chapter for every new point-of-view, this might have been OK. As it stands, though, it is clumsy and forced, as if Dowswell didn’t know how to introduce a new character without shifting to his/her perspective. It would have been better if Dowswell had simply introduced characters through their actions, mannerisms, and dialog as they interacted with Peter. This would have meant that he had to leave off some plot twists (when Peter is not present in the scene), but I think the story would have flowed better overall.

However, this is a minor quibble and does not greatly mar the story. For the unique perspective and solid historical content, I give The Auslander four stars (out of five).

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 11 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

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