Skat­ing With the Stat­ue of Liberty

  • Review
By – March 23, 2017

In this sequel to Black Radish­es, wartime refugee Gus­tave Beck­er arrives on a Por­tuguese ship in Bal­ti­more in Jan­u­ary 1942 with his par­ents, his cousin and his moth­er. They trav­el to New York City. Gus­tave enters Joan of Arc Junior High and strug­gles with learn­ing Eng­lish and the Amer­i­can way of life which dif­fers so marked­ly from pre-war or wartime France. He joins the Fran­co-Amer­i­can Boy Scout troop and finds a friend in African-Amer­i­can class­mate Sep­tem­ber Rose Walk­er. He doesn’t under­stand how dis­crim­i­na­tion against African-Amer­i­cans and Jews could exist in Amer­i­ca; it reminds him of Nazism. Through­out, he con­tin­ues to won­der about the where­abouts of his friend Mar­cel, and Saint-Georges cor­re­spon­dent Nicole keeps him informed through code words in her letters.

Mey­er presents a wartime New York City through the eyes of a refugee. Her back mat­ter notes she has relied on oral his­to­ries and mem­oir to research the time and place. The nar­ra­tive is large­ly based on her father’s life. While com­pelling, the plot seems con­trived and over­ly manip­u­lat­ed in spots and there are a few minor inac­cu­ra­cies. Still, Mey­er has cap­tured the refugee expe­ri­ence, the strange­ness and won­der, the chal­lenge and impact of learn­ing Eng­lish, the pover­ty, and the flash­backs of ter­ror­ized life in Nazi-occu­pied France. For the Amer­i­can per­spec­tive on wartime refugees, see Lila Perl’s Isabel’s War, clear­ly writ­ten by an author who lived through this time peri­od and brings verisimil­i­tude to the narrative.

Rec­om­mend­ed to with the pre­quel Black Radish­es, ages 9 – 12.

Bar­bara Kras­ner is the author of many books across gen­res, includ­ing fic­tion, poet­ry, cre­ative non­fic­tion, and chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. Her recent titles include 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939, Civil­ian Casu­al­ties in War and Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosen­berg’s Life in Poems. Her book Goldie Takes a Stand! Gol­da Meir’s First Cru­sade was a recip­i­ent of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Hon­or Award. She holds a Ph.D. in Holo­caust and geno­cide stud­ies from Gratz Col­lege, teach­es in the Holo­caust and geno­cide stud­ies pro­gram at the Col­lege of New Jer­sey, and serves as direc­tor of the Mer­cer Coun­ty Holo­caust, Geno­cide, and Human Rights Edu­ca­tion Cen­ter. She also holds an MFA in writ­ing for chil­dren and young adults from the Ver­mont Col­lege of Fine Arts.

Discussion Questions