The Berlin Boxing Club (review)
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Reviewed by
Sharenow, Robert. The Berlin Boxing Club. Harper/HarperCollins, 2011. [400p]. ISBN 978-0-06-157968-4 $17.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 7-10.

Sales have plummeted in Herr Stern's gallery following the Nazi censure of "degenerate" art; now boxer Max Schmeling is one of the Jewish dealer's few remaining customers. When Schmeling throws in free boxing lessons for Stern's son, Karl, as part of a transaction, Karl welcomes this as an opportunity to prepare himself to fight back against schoolmates who harass him. He has a gift in the ring, though, and as the teenager trains at Schmeling's gym, the Berlin Boxing Club, he finds himself in an adult milieu that seems to be a refuge for talent regardless of religious or ethnic origin. This safety, however, is illusory: Karl is revealed to be a Jew by supporters of a rival, and he's driven out of the public boxing world and the gym. When the Sterns' gallery/home is ransacked and his injured father arrested during the Kristallnacht madness, Karl has nowhere to turn except to Schmeling, [End Page 539] who discreetly helps him find information about his father and ultimately aids his escape to America. Karl is a convincing character, impulsive, hotheaded, and not very likable, and his self-absorption in the midst of national turmoil is true to an adolescent viewpoint. It's with Schmeling's character, though, that Sharenow excels, following the boxer's vacillating fortunes in the ring and playing his often-debated loyalties close to the vest. Even the graciousness of his assistance to Karl is left to the reader's judgment (in real life Schmeling did help Jews to emigrate), though the personal risk he ran is unquestionable. Boxing fans will be intrigued by the Schmeling/Louis fights as witnessed here by Germans as well as Americans, and Jews as well as gentiles, as the offsetting victories test the malleable boundaries of racial and national pride. Historical and source notes are included.

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