Review: Mordechai Anielewicz: No to Despair

Mordechai Anielewicz: No to Despair

by Rachel Hausfater, translated from French by Alison L. Strayer

Triangle Square Books for Young Readers (imprint of Seven Stories Press), 2022

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

Narrated by 13-year-old Feigele, a messenger in the Warsaw Ghetto, No to Despair tells the story of the three week insurrection in the ghetto by the Jews in April-May 1943. The book’s focus is on the 24-year-old leader of the insurrection, Mordechai Anielewicz, and emphasizes his belief in dying - and living - with dignity and not succumbing to hopelessness without a fight. Feigele idealizes Anielewicz, as probably most or all under his command did, referring to him repeatedly as an angel. While this depiction conveys the adoration and loyalty the fighters in the ghetto felt for him, it does mean that we miss out on a fuller portrait of Anielewicz as a human being with his own flaws and foibles. Although the narrator does give us some context, the book is best understood by someone with prior knowledge of both the Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto. The helpful backmatter includes an afterword which describes the struggles of many fighters for justice during different time periods and in different countries, historical background about World War II and the Warsaw Ghetto, a timeline, resources for those interested in exploring the topic further, and discussion questions. I would have appreciated an explanation of how much of the book is historical and how much is fiction (presumably the narrator is invented). This is a short but complex and powerful read, best suited for older readers with at least some background knowledge.
This book is part of Triangle Square’s new "They Said No" series, described on its website as a "historical fiction series for younger readers about protestors, activists, poets, revolutionaries, and other brave change-makers from around the world, and it emphasizes the importance of standing up for what you know is right."
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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband and two daughters, ages 17 and 14, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She is continually inspired by the city even though apartment living means she is running out of room for her picture book collection. When she is not reading or writing, she loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.


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