A Struggle for Hope
A Struggle for Hope
I can hear the children crying, though. They are frightened. And with good reason.
The lights are off in the dining room, the non-fighters dozing beside the children. Our fighters are trying to catch some sleep in their quarters, except for those on guard duty. The battle today was terrible. We lost over a dozen of our fellow Kibbutzniks. Arab soldiers who want us dead surround us on all sides. We are waiting for reinforcements, but so far none have arrived. Soon we might have to evacuate the women and children – that is, the women who aren’t part of the fighting force. And as a kibbutz, a community that does everything together – eat, work in the fields, even raise the children – what happens to one of us happens to each of us.
Simon speaks quietly. “I’m sorry to wake you, Ruth. But the children need help. And I know you can do something.” He makes a suggestion: “Tell them our story.”
“I’ve told it a dozen times!” I object.
“It doesn’t matter if you tell it a hundred,” he answers, a slight smile on his face. “They love it. And it gives them hope.”
Ruth, is a storyteller. Telling stories kept her alive for the duration of her time in Auschwitz during the Holocaust of World War II. Now in the newly created state of Israel, 17-year-old Ruth continues to use her talent for storytelling to help her stay alive, share her story of hope and encourage the younger children to share theirs.
Miraculously, at the end of the war, Ruth finds her brother Simon, and they make their way to Palestine smuggling young children from Poland. During this operation, Ruth meets her future boyfriend, Zvi, another teenage Holocaust survivor. In May 1948, the state of Palestine is divided after WWII into the state of Israel and the Arab state.
A Struggle for Hope opens in 1948, with the Arabs attacking Ruth’s Kibbutz David. The displaced Jews are hopeful of a fresh start in Palestine but continue to find themselves in a battle, the conflict between the two states that continues to this day.
Part two takes readers back to Ruth’s time in Auschwitz and the story of the Auschwitz Rebellion (October 7, 1944) and how her storytelling played a role in supporting the uprising.
Against the backdrop of these historic events, Matas, the acclaimed author of stories for young readers of Jews in WWII Europe, weaves another story of the Holocaust. What is new and rarely covered in children’s literature are the challenges facing the Jews after the war and the political machinations which led to the division of Palestine. Matas does a valiant job of tackling some very challenging concepts: philosophical – the question of the existence of God; and political – Jew versus Jew and Jew versus Arab. Ultimately, it is the quest for hope and a better future that motivates the characters and sustains them through some very dark days.
This short novel covers a great deal of ground. Young readers are likely to be aware of the Holocaust but not so likely to be aware of the struggles post WWII. Combining these stories is not problematic, but I hope, in future, Matas writes more on the less covered post-war events in the Middle East. A glossary of Hebrew words and the historical figures, pivotal to the creation of the State of Israel, is included and clarifies the plot.
The action keeps readers on the edge of their seats. A touch of romance softens some of the harsh realities the characters face. And the comfort, compassion and belonging to a communal family sustains their struggle for hope in the face of adversity.
Ruth Scales McMahon is a professional librarian working in a high school in Lethbridge Alberta. She is the co-chair of the Rock Mountain Book Award.