Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jenn's Review: The Berlin Boxing Club

Summary:  Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin, it doesn't matter that Karl has never set foot in a synagogue or that his family doesn't practice religion. Demoralized by relentless attacks on a heritage he doesn't accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth to everyone around him.

So when Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl's father to give Karl boxing lessons, Karl sees it as the perfect chance to reinvent himself. A skilled cartoonist, Karl has never had an interest in boxing, but as Max becomes the mentor Karl never had, Karl soon finds both his boxing skills and his art flourishing.

But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: protector of his family. Karl longs to ask his new mentor for help, but with Max's fame growing, he is forced to associate with Hitler and other Nazi elites, leaving Karl to wonder where his hero's sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with his obligation to keep his family out of harm's way?

Review:  I have always found the period of WWII fascinating, historically so usually, when I read non-fiction it tends to relate to that era.  While I don't read a lot of historical fiction, it stands to reason that if I am do, it will relate to the WWII era as well.  The Berlin Boxing Club is a fictional tale skirting the life of German boxer Max Schmeling.

I won't pretend that I understand the sport of boxing, but I didn't find it necessary to appreciate this book.  Boxing is important to the story only in so much that's important to Karl.  It's how he uses it to cope with his ever shrinking world. For him, it promotes courage, strength of character, and independent thought and gives him an outlet that is rivaled only by his comic strip drawings which are scattered throughout the chapters.

Although, Karl's story was interesting, I didn't find it consuming. The stories behind the ancillary characters seemed far more compelling. I'm not sure whether this is because they were well written or because that, compared to the rest of the Jews in Berlin, Karl had things pretty easy -even compared to other members of his family. Sometimes Sharenow obliged with tiny glimpses into the lives of the supporting cast, mostly as plot exposition, but I would have loved to know more.  Even the ending felt a little unresolved.  On the whole, though the story is very solid as it is, I just wanted more.

While there are many non-fiction books available to more mature readers on this topic, I think The Berlin Boxing Club is a great introductory novel to the atrocities of WWII, the duplicity of human nature, and survival instincts.

Final Take:  3.75/5.0

**This one is certainly male centric making it a good 'guy book'.


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