This is an important book about the Holocaust and one woman’s efforts to memorialize the lives so tragically lost to Nazi cruelty. It’s an inspiring true story matched only by the astonishingly vivid artwork Susan Gal uses here to bring Yaffa Eliach’s story to life.
Y’all, I could go on and on about this art. So much care has gone into it, from the blue-black of Yaffa’s hair to the exquisite patternwork of the clothes, to the truly inspired montage of photos over artistic depictions of everyday life in the Polish shtetl of Eishyshok (now a Lithuanian town called Eisiskes.) Ms Gal was inspired by the Tower Of Life memorial Dr Eliach curated at the Holocaust Museum and it shows in every joyful brush stroke, in every moment of hope captured in the face of despair. This art deserves to win awards.
The accompanying text is competent to good. I know that that sounds like weirdly faint praise when it’s not meant to be. It’s just that the actual point of the book is only truly elucidated in the afterword. The Tower Of Life serves to remind viewers that real people, people who loved and laughed and were just doing their best to get by, had their lives brutally stolen from them. Remembering them as victims has value, but not as much as remembering them as fellow human beings whose lives should have been celebrated, whose stories need to be remembered as touchstones for our shared humanity. The preceding text almost closes that circle between celebrating life and promoting empathy but doesn’t quite manage it, which feels like a weird disservice to everyone involved. I mean, this is a kid’s book. Feel free to spell that point out for the, likely very young, reader.
And, I mean, I get it, you don’t want to go overboard saying “it could happen to you” and traumatizing some poor 8 year-old. Writing children’s books is hard work, so more power to all the children’s books writers out there!