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  • Repatriated
  • Dinda L. Gorlée (bio)
A Faraway Island. Annika Thor. Translated by Linda Schenck. Delacorte Press. 256 pages; cloth, $16.99; paper, $6.99.

The real events of World War II can rarely be recorded so many years after they happened. Sixty-five years after the global conflict, even the witnesses—the rare survivors in Europe and the rest of the world—are unable to remember what happened. After the iconic diaries of Anne Frank and other real autobiographies and letters of Jewish life in hiding, things are now in movement. Today, the vast body of war memoirs are not firsthand information, but are exciting, psychological quasi-thrillers in dramatic novels and films. The logic of the real events of the war is deconstructed and destabilized to become reframed and popularized into historical tales without extrinsic evidences of genuineness. Today, fiction can be morally hazardous to the preservation of the real events in World War II.

The danger can turn from unreasonable to reasonable stories, or vice versa. This is particularly crucial for real stories written by adults for the education of children. Children's literature has the therapeutic value of an absolutely realistic genre to awaken the naive children to the impact of harsh reality, and finally to comfort them in their troubles. In A Faraway Island, the educational goal for children from eleven years of age predominates, with the included map of occupied and free countries of Europe under the Greater German Reich. But without describing the horrors of the war itself, the book describes the misery of Jewish children exiled from their parents to live in countries unoccupied by the Germans. The tale of the diaspora turns into a modern fairy tale, reacting to, in Bruno Bettelheim's words in The Uses of Enchantment (1976), the "universal symbols that permit the child to choose, select, neglect, and interpret the tale in ways congruent with his state of intellectual and psychological development," so that the tale "intimates how the child may transcend it, and what may be involved in reaching the next stage on his progress toward mature integration." For example, Grimms's Hansel and Grethel narrates the fate of a brother and sister, semi-abandoned by their poor parents. The narrow escape from the grave danger of the cannibalistic witch is recreated in the "real" tale of A Faraway Island. On the instigation of their parents, the Jewish sisters Nellie (seven) and Stephie (twelve) fly from Vienna in 1939 to escape the Nazis. Far from home, the girls receive a welcome on a rugged island off the western coast of free Sweden.

For young readers, the moment-by-moment stories are compatible with the historical "truth." However, the English cover page is at sharp variance with the image on the original Swedish edition. In En ö i havet, the portraits of Nellie and Stephie grasp the rail of the ship, taking them with tears in their eyes to the "faraway island." In the English version, their faces have cleared up, and, dressed in Scandinavian costume, they seem to be happily smiling at the future. The "truth" is ambiguous in a critical way: it need not always mean the taking of the jacket picture for young readers to be true. Instead of the factual history of the Austro-German Anschluss (1938) or the discussion of psychoanalytic cases of exiled children, A Faraway Island translates aggression and hope transpiring in Nellie and Stephie's "adventures," reflecting their truth and image. The reminiscences of the past in conversations and letters with their parents in Vienna, together with events, hearsay, rumor, gossip, and personal experiences represent their life in their Swedish host families and their efforts to learn a new language and culture. They are "normal" Viennese city girls, but pictured as "strange" children. In Nazi Austria, they were politically unwanted, but on the Swedish fishermen's island, their cultural and social attitude is different. Officially welcome in the host families, they are by others dehumanized as unwelcome Jewish or "gypsy kids," inviting them to yodel as a sign of Alpine patriotism. Such ethnic abuses are echoed by Stephie, calling herself a "not-like-you-not-like...


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