'Aron' Is Difficult, Compassionate And Powerful
"My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me, ‘What Have You Done,’ and my uncle told everyone they should have called me, ‘What Were You Thinking.’"
So begins The Book of Aron, Jim Shepard's seventh novel. Set in the Warsaw Ghetto, Aron lives with his family in a tiny apartment that becomes tinier as the Jewish Police, trying to earn favor from the Gestapo, send others for the family to take in. Food is becoming scarce, Aron's father and brother are taken away to a work camp, and Aron gets by as many young boys do: he has a scrappy gang of friends who smuggle and trade and steal the basic necessities of life.
He is shown favor by one of the Jewish police, pressed to deliver Jews to the Gestapo. Naive to the forces of a world unfathomable to him, Aron unknowingly gives up one of his friends. He watches as his father is beaten, as the Jewish Police ransack their home, as one of his gang beats a rival gang leader nearly to death with a brick, in an isolated abandoned building.
Aron traverses the streets of the ever more depraved ghetto with his mother searching for nourishment that results in horse blood, fried potato bread and all manner of awfulness. His mother douses him in turpentine to prevent him from contracting the typhoid that she dies from. When his father and brother never return from the work camps, Aron is homeless. He is sick, frostbit and starving.
Janusz Korczak, a doctor renowned in his fight for children's rights, runs an orphanage once the Nazis move in. He takes Aron under his wing and they beg in the streets for provisions for the children.
Shepard's novel is one of compassion, humanity and resilience. The Book of Aron is a testament to any child abandoned during war and to those who come to their aid.