Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lydia, Queen of Palestine – International Literature


Orlev, Uri (translated by Hillel Halkin). 1993. Lydia Queen of Palestine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-65660-5

Plot Summary
A tale of a young Jewish girl named Lydia. The story covers Lydia’s life from preschool age through sixth grade as she and her family overcome the growing anti-Jewish sentiments in their homeland of Romania by moving to Palestine. Lydia’s family does not travel there together though. After her parents separate, Romania becomes a dangerous place for Jewish men so Lydia’s father goes first. As tensions rise, Lydia’s mother decides it will be easier to get out of the country if she and Lydia travel separately so Lydia is sent to Palestine with a train full of other children fleeing the country. She is to live on a kibbutz until her mother can join her. Though it is not quite the family it was, Lydia is finally reunited with her parents to begin a new life in Palestine.

Critical Analysis
The overall story is a wonderful one describing the thoughts and predicaments of a precocious and mischievous girl. As the story is told from a child’s point of view, there are some descriptions and character developments that are lacking though they serve to bring a realistic quality to the story. The author loosely based the book on the life of a young lady he met while completing his “army service.” For this reason, the cultures represented in the story seem quite accurate.

The story begins in the countryside of Romania and then shifts to city life. In both environments, Lydia discovers she is different when it comes to religious practices. She finds she is Jewish though she is not necessarily aware of how that life is different from anyone else’s until she is unable to play with friends while they are at church and then later when she attends a Catholic school for a time. Her childhood also exposes her to the various cultures of her nannies where she learns about the German and French cultures. She generally finds little difference between being Romanian and being Jewish until she is no longer allowed to attend the Catholic school and begins to loose friends because she is Jewish. She then attends a Jewish school where she learns more about and begins to better appreciate her culture. She is taught Jewish stories and Hebrew. However, she is taken from it abruptly to escape the Iron Guard of Romania that has been killing Jewish men and is making life hard for all other Jewish people. She is quickly sent to a kibbutz in Palestine to await her mother’s escape from Romania. It is at this point in the story where the culture switches to that of a Palestinian kibbutz. Lydia, who refused to change her name to one more Jewish in nature, must now wear a uniform, sleep in a dormitory, and generally follow the rules and schedules of the kibbutz. Here, they have regular chores and responsibilities and they refer to each other as “comrade” since they admire Soviet Russia and Comrade Stalin’s fight against the Germans. There is much to be learned about life in World War II Romania as well as life in a kibbutz from this book.

Professional Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
Orlev's "judicious invocation of historical events and his energetic emphasis on the characters' personal dramas" bring to life two very different protagonists in these exceptional novels set during WWII; the impact, said PW, is "unimpeachable." Ages 10-up; 12-up.  Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7-Lydia, a typically self-centered and unusually spirited child caught up in the dissolution of her personal and societal worlds, narrates her story. Her parents separate, divorce, and ultimately remarry-both to people she considers to be her enemies. World War II Romania becomes an increasingly dangerous place for Jews, and Lydia's mother sends her to a kibbutz in Israel, promising to follow soon. Adjustment to communal life is difficult for an individualist like Lydia, and when her mother neither arrives nor writes, she seeks out her father, already in Israel. Reluctantly, she comes to realize that "That Woman" to whom he is now married is not really an adversary. When her mother arrives married to the man Lydia had tried to get rid of, she is also able to accept him. For slightly younger readers than, and neither as taut nor as involving as, Orlev's The Island on Bird Street (1984) and The Man from the Other Side (1991, both Houghton), this is an honest book peopled with convincing characters whose petty jealousies and concerns occupy them more than the larger events of the world in which they live. Lydia's experiences are often wryly humorous; she is both inventive and unpredictable, and never boring. This offers a contrast to the spate of Holocaust books with harrowing escapes and heroic protagonists, but it may not have as much intrinsic appeal for young readers. Louise L. Sherman, Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ

Using this book, one could teach about life during World War II. This book also lends itself to lessons in Jewish culture, especially life in a Jewish kibbutz. The book is also a wonderful example of writing from a specific point of view since it is told from the perspective of a young girl.

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