Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published September 13th, 2016 by Tundra Books
It’s been a while since I’ve finished this book, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m still not posting as often as I used to. Life is simply being too hectic. I do try to read as many posts from other people as I can, but my own reading life has sadly come to an almost halt. Which is damn shame because I was really looking forward to reading a tonne of books this month in the spirit of Halloween! Who knows, though, I might catch up again next week when I’m feeling slightly better.
Back to the book again!
Set against the backdrop of plague-ravaged Europe, this spellbinding new novel from one of Canada’s foremost writers of historical fiction for young people will have readers racing to the electrifying climax.
Seventeen-year-old Natan has a safe and happy life in fourteenth-century Strasbourg, France. He works with his father in his rag trade, helps his mother around the house, and studies the Torah at night with his young brother, Shmuli. He’s even feeling the first stirrings of love with Elena, the daughter of the master draper who is his father’s best customer.
But something is rotten in the streets of Strasbourg. There is tension between the Jewish community and the rest of the citizens, and there is fear as the deadly plague sweeps through towns and cities nearby. When rumors begin to circulate that Jewish residents are contaminating the town’s well water to try to hasten the plague’s arrival in their city, Natan knows that there are dangerous days ahead. When he sees who really poisoned Strasbourg’s water, he is determined to speak the truth and save his people from the false accusations being made against them. But a moment of violence threatens to derail his plans and change his life in ways he could never have imagined.”
This book depicts the persecution of the Jewish people in a different time period than we’re usually reading about: fourteenth-century Strasbourg. I always thought that it was Straßburg, and that it was a German town/region, but little did I know; it’s right on the border between France and Germany and belongs to France nowadays.
The first chapter starts in October 1338. We’re introduced to the heart-breaking story of the struggling Jews in the city. The Bubonic Plague (a.k.a. the Black Death) is spreading throughout Europe and the threat of it is felt in Strasbourg as well. Fingers are being pointed at the Jewish community. They’re being accused of poisoning the wells and spreading the disease in other nefarious ways. Ever since the murder of Jesus Christ (hey, I’m not swearing now!), Jews have been the scapegoat of society. They were money lenders or involved in other financial businesses, but that’s mostly because they were denied most other forms of decent jobs.
During the beginning of Another Me, we see that the actual culprits are the non-Jewish people who are dumping faeces (and even a living cat) into the city wells so they can blame it on the Jews later on. Natan, a 17-year-old Jewish boy, happens to be a witness of the crime. But he gets caught.
What happens next will amaze you! [insert clickbait ad] Since this would be a massive spoiler, I’ll stick to the following: I did not see it coming. The actual execution of the plot twist, however, was poorly done. This James Franco GIF covers it perfectly (and adds a little eye candy for the ladies).
It took me a while to recover from it and not in an “OMG THIS IS SO EXCITING!!“-kind of way. More like a “Mkay, so that’s weird“- kind of way.
Anywho, we follow the rest of the story in which Natan and his teen love, Elena (a non-Jew) have to protect the city from the nasty people who inhabit it and who are trying to take over the power while the Plague runs its course.
An interesting fact is that the Jews were indeed less affected by the Plague themselves (another reason for the angry mob to blame them for instigating the whole thing). This was very likely due to their religious rituals which included a high standard of hygiene: washing their hands and themselves several times a day, especially before eating. You can imagine that it made a difference with the infection rate compared to the people who didn’t do this.
So, Elena and Natan; a forbidden love, and star-crossed lovers. The love aspect wasn’t always entirely convincing but I guess that’s mostly due to the complicated situation later on.
I found it hard to rate this book. On one hand, I liked it and it was a gripping read for sure. The descriptions of how the Jewish people were being treated like cockroaches were heart-breaking, let alone the mentioning of the massacres that took place. The Nazi holocaust was horrible, but so was this one. I was very intrigued, learning about the Strasbourg massacre of which I knew relatively nothing beforehand.
In this particular massacre (of which we read in the book as well) several hundred Jews were publicly burnt to death. Nobody did anything to stop this because no one knew who was responsible for protecting the Jews in the first place. So yes, reading about this definitely tickled my history buttons.
Then there were the cons I mentioned further up here. To add another one to that list: the book is technically even shorter than it already is because the whole prologue is literally repeated later on. I don’t mind returning to the scene in which everything started, as long as it’s a little different and told from a different point of view.
All in all, I liked the history aspect of the story. I was able to physically feel the fear of the Jewish people as well, so kudos for the author there! The storyline, even though predictable at times, occasionally had me on the edge of my seat. The characters were alright, if not a bit flat sometimes. Natan’s father was an idiot, for one.
I liked this book but wasn’t blown away by some of the executions of the story. If you want to read a darker Middle-Grade book about a different time period in which Jews were being persecuted en mass: this is definitely worth the read. There’s a religious paranormal aspect to it as well (dun DUN DUUUN!). Probably not recommended for children under 12, making this more suitable as a YA book instead of an MG one.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion!
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