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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Empty House (The)
by Claude Gutman
Age Range: 12+
Thirteen-year-old David’s father believes that Paris is a safe place for Jews. He escaped from Poland because of persecution, losing his first family to a gang of anti-Semitic Poles on the rampage, but France is different because it is the land of liberté, égalité and fraternité. Until, that is, Paris is occupied by the Germans and all Jews are forced to wear a yellow star. Forewarned, David’s parents arrange for him to sleep in the flat upstairs with the Bianchottis, a non-Jewish family. Early the following morning of 16th July 1942, David’s mother and father are taken away by two policemen while he watches from the window. “Within ten minutes there wasn’t a Jew left in our neighbourhood except me”.
David survives because of the help and courage of other people. “I’ve decided to live at any price. It’s not a deliberate decision. It’s some kind of force coming up from deep, deep down, and even stronger than grief”. He rants against God and tries to understand the madness that is happening around him. Madam Bianchotti takes David to her brother, the Father Superior at a school run by monks in Montreuil-sur-Mer but he rebels against their attempts to turn him into a good ‘Christian’ and arrangements are made for David to move on. Eventually he finds himself in a home for Jewish children in the southern Vichy zone.
Over the next two years David starts to have some sort of ‘normal existance’, attending school, having piano lessons and meeting his first love, Claire. Now aged fifteen, David narrates his story as he sits alone in the empty house that was once full of laughter and children, the only survivor of a round-up of Jews by the Germans when they occupied the Vichy region in 1943. David is still free, but alone.
The Empty House received the Prix Sorciéres for best young people’s novel in 1990.