IN PRAISE OF JIM SHEPARD’S “THE BOOK OF ARON”

(A number of people have asked about the review I did a couple of months ago of Jim Shepard’s novel The Book of Aron.  So for those of you who missed it the first time, here it is again.)

I imagine I am interviewing Jim Shepard.

“Jim,” I say. “Yes, Jim?” he says.

“Choosing a kid to tell the story. Choosing that kid to tell the story. Such a brave and brilliant choice! A boy so unremarkable that he becomes . . . remarkable. It seems to me you’re straddling a line here. A balancing act. A kid who breaks things. A kid who can’t even learn the alphabet. A kid whose own uncle chooses to call him What Were You Thinking?

“By some people’s reckoning, a throwaway kid. And, first to last, everything told through his eyes. Someone getting shot, someone going hungry, someone else getting shot, someone else going hungry, someone getting knocked down, bludgdeoned; him getting knocked down, bludgeoned. Someone getting shot because of him. This kid’s birds-eye view of a great, great man weeping, ranting, begging—and still every emotion filtered through Aron’s tiny, budding yet already wizened little soul. What a choice! How did you make it?”

I have no idea what he would answer. Perhaps, “It chose me?”

Nor does it matter. I am not interviewing Jim Shepard. I am sitting in a chair having just finished his book, and I am crying. I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry.

The Book of Aron is an astounding accomplishment. Not just because of the author’s choice of protagonist, but because of the extraordinary skill with which Shepard carries it off, the choice of tone and style, the choice of what to say and what to leave out of the awful, bone-chilling, unbelievable (yet all too believable) occurrences in the Warsaw ghetto and the fate of its Jewish inhabitants, including the children.

At the end, in my interview, I would say, “Jim?”

And he would reply, “Yes, Jim?”

And I would say, “Mazel tov! And wow!”

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