“Chance” by Uri Shulevitz

“Chance: Escape from the Holocaust” by Uri Shulevitz

One thing that has been on my mind for the past 4 years is the rise of fascism in the U.S. You cannot ignore it and it isn’t hyperbolic to wonder how close America came to becoming Nazi Germany. I noticed this book by “chance” at the library and immediately picked it up. I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and how every day people resisted, or managed to escape, it.

Uri Shulevitz is a Caldecott Award-winning illustrator and picture book author. He is now 85-years-old and this memoir recounts his days in Poland, Turkestan, and France when he was a child escaping the Holocaust with his parents. Impressionist drawings and some photographs accompany the text. I would say this is not a strictly children’s book because there is a lot of cruelty, the kind that hits you when you look back as an adult.

One of the biggest connections I drew from Shulevitz to the U.S. today is when he mentioend how lucky he was to go through this ordeal with his parents. The U.S. separates children from their parents at the border. Both are escaping from home countries that have become inhabitable for them. Uri’s parents left him at several points during their journey from Poland to Turkestan because of illness, work opportunity, or being captured. Nonetheless, they managed to return.

That his family stayed intact and that he survived to become an artist is the theme of “Chance.” If he had not been named Uri, his father would have gotten USSR passports. If they had Soviet passports, they would have remained in Belarus. If they had stayed in Belarus, they would have been taken by the invading Nazis and died.

It goes to show that our survival had little to do with our own decisions. Rather, it was blind chance deciding our fate.

p. 249, Chance by Uri Shulevitz

It is the same with DREAMers and immigrants from Central America coming to the United States. Their survival has to do with the mercy of ICE, of Senators, of the President — people who have no idea who they are and what is at stake. Uri said that even after the Nazis had been defeated and his family moved to Paris, he was called a “dirty foreigner” by other children, and only seen as a Parisian outside of Paris. That resonates with how Americans see each other and the many divisions and cultural wars that you fight, even when you are technically “safe.”

My biggest takeaway from “Chance” is that safety is a gift and we are always one disaster, one chance away from fascism taking over. We can be vigilant and put in every effort, but safety is not guaranteed.

Autobiographies and #OwnVoices

I think all of these books deal with trauma. Whether it’s separation, illness, or the day-to-day stressors of marriage, they all have a big impact on us and require healing. I admire the protagonists in these books for finding their own form of healing. 🙏💙 Whether it’s photography, drawing, writing, therapy, or coming to terms with oneself, like Lucy Grealy did, healing is the best thing about life.

Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill

This was the first time I read Jenny Offill. I read a description of her writing as like text messages, and it’s so right. Dept. of Speculation is about a marriage. The subject reminds me of The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. It chronicles the relationship that starts with what feels like a special meeting, then gets into marriage and the minor annoyances that build up until the marriage becomes a problem.

I’m not sure I am a fan of these stories, although I’m sure they will get told many times. The bleak and hyper-realistic look into a marriage can feel like warning, or maybe for people who are married, it feels super relatable. In any case, I’ve heard great things about Weather and I will read that next!

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Lucy Grealy suffered a lot from a series of surgeries that she had as a child, when she got Ewing’s sarcoma. Throughout her life, she has wanted to look normal. I love this book as a counter to Wonder, which looks at disfigurement as something inspirational. But it’s okay to not want to live with a disfigured or ugly face. It’s okay to be like Lucy Grealy and want to look like who you know yourself to be. The fact is surgery changed how she looked, and her post-surgery face is not her own, anymore than the

Grealy has a very unflinching look at herself. She’s totally honest about her wants and needs, the ways they’re not met, and how she came to terms with all of it. After many failed surgeries, some of which spanned years, she decided that this is the face she will live with, and she went on to have flings, relationships, and a good time, as good as any of us may have. I’m so glad Lucy Grealy left this behind for us. Thank you, Lucy.

Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai

I love N. H. Senzai’s historical fiction for kids. Shooting Kabul is about a family escaping from Afghanistan, and the main character’s younger sister gets left behind. The family settles in Fremont, where there is an Afghan community. Fadi and his father love photography, and Fadi gets into the photography club at his school, even though he can’t pay for it. His older teen sister helps him pay for the club fees, and he enters a contest by photographing his grandparents.

This book was published in 2020, before #OwnVoices and the Diverse Books movement properly started. It’s set in 2001, and it depicts the prejudice and aggressions that kids like Fadi faced after the 9/11 attacks. I think that was my favorite part of it because it still happens today. In one scene, the bullies mistake a Sikh kid as Muslim because of how he looks. That totally happens!!! Ugh.

I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

This has become one of my favorite books. Edie’s mom is adopted, but she has never talked to her about who Edie is named after. One day, Edie finds a picture of her biological grandmother, also named Edith. The story is about Edie finding out who Edith and who she is. This book gives background to the Indian Child Welfare Act. It’s heartbreaking to think that the government separated so many Indian families for no reason, and what kind of traumatic impact that has had generations after.

The book left me wanting to learn more about Edith. So many elders have passed away without their voices heard. To be separated from your child must be like dying while alive. Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the fact that Edie loves drawing, the salmon motif, and the strong sense of place in Seattle. I enjoyed this book and hope to read more from Christine Day.

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

I follow Saeed on Twitter and he is such a gem — a powerful gem. I also saw that Tiffany Young got his memoir at the bookstore! Right now seems like a fitting time to read this book because we are very literally, fighting for our lives.

Jones is brutally honest here. There is a lot of sex, generational trauma, coming of age and PAIN here. It hurts to read but it is so good. It’s about living unapologetically because when you’re a a gay Black man like Jones, the act of existing is defiant. Like Lucy Grealy’s memoir, How We Fight is not written to be inspiring to us, but it is. The spirit of living and survivorship is strong. Reading these memoirs make me feel like I need to do the right thing and keep living, as hard as it may be.

Which autobiographies or #ownvoices stories have inspired you?

Older teen protagonist get real about trauma

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I am really glad that there is so much amazing YA out there. To me, it feels like authors are creating a new genre entirely. I didn’t feel that anything I read in high school resonated with me. Books like The Outsiders and The Catcher in the Rye are not only outdated, but they don’t relate to today’s teens at all.

I hope books like the ones I read here make it into the hands of teen readers, even if it’s a long way before schools start teaching these books. Continue reading