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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)
Along the Tracks
by Tamar Bergman
Age Range: 12+
Yankele, a Jewish boy from Lodz, is eight years old when the Nazis invade Poland. Together with his parents and younger sister Sarele they leave their homeland to seek safety in Russia. The journey takes weeks and is a treacherous trek, first on foot and then by train. Yankele’s parents find work in a tough mining camp in the Ural mountains where conditions are harsh and they suffer hunger and illness. By renouncing their Polish citizenship they are able to move more freely within the Soviet Union and they find refuge in a small town in the Crimea at a carpentry cooperative, only to be displaced again when the Nazis invade the Soviet Union and Yankele's father is drafted to serve in the Russian army. As the war grows closer, Yankele's mother takes him and his sister on a refugee train bound for Kazakhstan.
When Yankele is separated from his family, his ensuing odyssey leads him through Uzbekistan, an exhausting journey through villages and countryside, walking and riding on freight trains, trying to locate his mother. He befriends other ‘abandoned ones’ (child gangs who are trying to survive), ends up in state orphanages or is helped by kind strangers. Throughout it all he remains determined to find his own family.
Based on a true story, Israeli author, Tamar Bergman carefully weaves historical details into this unforgettable adventure. Yankele's aching hunger is vividly portrayed, as is the moral dilemma of the justification of his need to steal in order to survive. Translated from Hebrew, the narrative shifts from third to first person when Yankele finds himself alone, resulting in a more personal, intense narrative. Occasionally there are instances when the passage of time is unclear but this is a beautiful book that poignantly shows the pain of separation and the remarkable determination of Yankele to survive.