The true story of a teenager's experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, as he discovers his own heritage and finds himself caught up in the war through underground dealings.
A true story of WW II Warsaw, this novel relates events so dramatic as to be cataclysmic. But the voice of its 14-year-old narrator, Marek, would be gripping given any plot, so candid that it tolerates admissions of less-than-exemplary behavior as well as a more-than-exemplary atonement. A Pole, Marek helps his stepfather smuggle goods into the Jewish ghetto, enduring trips through the foul sewers not from altruism but in order to reap lucrative profits. When two streetwise buddies decide to mug a runaway Jew, he helps: ``They will `shave' some Jew anyway, so what difference does it make if I join them?'' he tells himself. But Marek's mother finds his share of the loot and, appalled, explains that he has consigned his victim to certain death, then reveals that Marek's long-dead father was born Jewish. Marek, who has imbibed much of the local anti-Semitism, decides to use the money to help another Jew, and his actions lead him into the ghetto during the peak of the uprising. A survivor of that ghetto, Orlev neither demonizes nor glorifies, whether portraying Poles or Jews, fighters or collaborators. His refusal to exaggerate gives the story unimpeachable impact. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)