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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)
Lydia, Queen of Palestine
by Uri Orlev
Age Range: 9-11
Lydia, the narrator, is a feisty child growing up in Romania during the 1930s. As her parents marriage disintegrates and they separate, Lydia's private world is threatened. She learns early on to make anyone an ‘official enemy’ that she takes a dislike to. Staging elaborate theatrical productions with her dolls she plots to rid herself of those that she sees as her ‘oppressors’ who include a succession of nannies, ‘That Woman’ (her father’s mistress) and ‘Mr Lupo’, her mother’s new boyfriend.
Lydia is Jewish and when the Second World War begins her life in Bucharest changes as she is expelled from school and her father, a journalist, flees to Palestine to avoid arrest. No further word is heard from him and as the war intensifies and the fascists stage a pogrom, her mother arranges for Lydia to escape on a train filled with refugee children, her final destination, a kibbutz in Palestine.
For a self-assured child like Lydia, adjusting to communal life on the kibbutz is difficult and she creates chaos wherever she goes. When her mother fails to join her or to write, Lydia seeks out her father but discovers that the antics of both parents are definitely not to her liking!
Lydia's story is told with a great deal of humour and some of her escapades are hilarious. She is both inventive and unpredictable taking matters into her own hands believing there is nothing she cannot do. In the epilogue Orlev tells us that Lydia is the fictionalized account of a young women, (Israeli poet Arianna Haran) he first met when he was a soldier doing his army service. Although not exclusively dealing with the Holocaust this novel does give a perspective of life in Romania for a young Jewish child and in Israel during the Second World War.