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I got Uri Orlev’sThe Man from the Other Side‘ as a Christmas present from one of my favourite friends. I started reading it a couple of days and couldn’t stop till I finished reading it in the wee hours of the morning today.

The story told in the book goes like this. Marek is a fourteen year old boy, who lives in Warsaw with his mother and stepdad. It is the time when the Second World War in on. His own father was captured by the government, years before the war, because he was a communist and was tortured and killed. Marek’s stepdad Antony smuggles food and supplies to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. He sometimes brings back babies which the Jewish people ask him to give up for adoption at the convent. Antony works as a Superintendent in the department of sanitation and so knows his way around the sewers and that is how he smuggles stuff into the ghetto. At some point Antony asks Marek to help him out in this. While this is happening and Marek gets to know more about Jewish people and their culture and their sufferings, he once discovers a Jewish man at the church. Jewish people are not allowed outside the ghetto and so it is clear that this man is hiding his identity. Marek decides to help him. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

The Man from the Other Side‘ is set during the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. The events of the story are woven around this historical happening. The book takes us to that period and makes history come alive. We see events unfolding through Marek’s eyes and it is fascinating. Marek has a wonderful, original voice – he is at a stage in life when he is no longer a kid, but he is not yet an adult, and so he has a foot on both the camps. We get to see the important events of this age through the eyes of this fascinating narrator and hear the story through his unique voice. I loved most of the characters in the book, especially Marek, our narrator, Pan Jozek, the Jewish man he tries helping, Marek’s grandmother, who is anti-Semitic, but who undergoes a big transformation through the story, Marek’s mother who is a strong woman, and Marek’s stepfather Antony. The relationship between Pan Jozek and Marek’s grandmother, and Marek and his stepfather, are two of the most beautiful relationships depicted in the book. There is a chapter in the end called ‘The Jews’ Finest Hour’. It gave me goosebumps and it was heartbreaking and it made me cry.

The Man from the Other Side‘ is a beautiful book. It is my last book of the year, and it is one of my favourites of the year. It is out-of-print right now. I hope it comes back in print. It deserves more readers. It is recommended reading for today’s times.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“He asked me, “Have you ever been to the seashore?” I never had. It was a long way from Warsaw, although my mother had promised we would go there after the war. I tried to imagine the Wisla without its opposite bank, the way it was on a foggy day. Was that what the ocean looked like? I asked Pan Jozek. He said that it wasn’t. I remember him saying, “A river is a river and an ocean is an ocean. Each has its own beauty, its own sound, its own smell. I love the ocean and I love the Wisla too.”

“Sometimes he would become lucid again for only a few minutes, other times for hours at a time. It might even last a few days, as if there was nothing wrong with him. When that happened he was shocked by how much time he had lost, because he couldn’t remember a thing since he had last lost track of himself. Everything in between was wiped out, whether it was a few days, a week, or several weeks. He would sit up and wonder what had happened to all that time and ask how the war was getting on.”

“Today, when I try to remember how much time all this took, I don’t seem able to. The actual minutes spent shooting and throwing grenades couldn’t have been that many, but each one passed so slowly that I can remember exactly what everyone around me was doing, whereas the long hours of waiting between one burst of action and the next have contracted to almost nothing in my memory.”

Have you read ‘The Man from the Other Side‘? What do you think about it?

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