Friday, 29 August 2014

Alexander Altmann A10567

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail (black dog books)
PB RRP $ 18.95
ISBN 9781922179999
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Alexander Altmann at fourteen years old loses his name and becomes a number at Birkenau. Separated from his mother and sister by the wire fence, he pretends to be sixteen and is put into the men’s section to work.

Shattered at learning his young sister has gone to the gas chambers, and not knowing what became of his parents, he clings to ‘just get through the day’ as a lifeline. He watches as other boys get shot or kicked to death and he is determined not to be next.

When Alex is moved to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, his farm life and experience with horses, places him in the Horse Platoon to care for the animals. The decision to keep to himself and feel nothing for no one is fuelled by the smoke, smell and sight of death that constantly surrounds him. Even the friendship offered to him by the persuasive Isidor, another young horse-handler, is totally rejected.

It takes a new horse, a wild, frightened being, very much like himself, ‘to teach him how to be human’ again. As the Russian troops draw nearer and freedom is in sight, Alexander Altmann reclaims his name, along with many other things that were taken from him.

This deeply moving novel is based on the real life story of a Holocaust survivor. Suzy Zail has built powerful, heartbreaking images of the brutal life in concentration camps. The hunger, inhumanity and deprivation are presented in strong visual narrative. Suzy’s previous novel, The Wrong Boy, set in the same era, was short-listed for the 2013, CBCA Book of the Year Award.  

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