The Whirlwind by Carol Matas

I read this book in a whirlwind created by multiple other books I was/am reading at the same time. It was out on the counter one day and my oldest passed by, glanced down and did a double take.

“Mom, what’s this book about?” he wanted to know. “Is it about soldiers?”

I could tell that he was getting impressed with dear old mom and her interest in historical fiction. We had a nice little discussion about this book which really does have to do with soldiers, the Nazi kind. Ben Friedman’s Jewish family has fled Nazi Germany and finally arrived in Seattle. It seems that only Ben remembers how quickly the tides can turn against people.

When his only friend at school, a child of Japanese immigrants tells him that his family is being forced to leave their home and move to a squalid camp just because they are Japanese. Ben feels it all beginning again. Rage wells up inside hime and he tries to convince his parents to flea. Canada seems like a good plan to him and when no one listens to him, he runs away.

Ben soon finds out that Canada is even more hostile to Jews and Japanese than America is. Forced to face his fears, he realizes that no matter what people take away from him he is still free to choose his own actions. When he chooses to stop living in fear and look for the good around him, he is amazed that there is so much to appreciate.

Ben suffered, I think from post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is a difficult thing to deal with and one of the many realities of war and conflict. I think the author did a great job of getting inside the head of someone who had suffered great injustices; bringing to the fore the tragedies that occur when people are afraid.

Telling stories of the past is the best way to prevent mistakes from becoming a viscious cycle. I can’t count the number of times I’ve brought up books in conversation (The Hiding Place, Night by Elie Wiesel, Hanzi the Girl Who Loved the Swaztika to name a few) that I think are vital in educating against the same genocide and senseless waste that occurred during the greatest conflicts in our recent history, and people have never even heard of them. How do you think we keep important stories from being forgotten?

5 thoughts on “The Whirlwind by Carol Matas

  1. I saw this on a google alert and just wanted to thank you for the very thoughtful post. I think Ben does suffer from PTS but when writing it that didn’t occur to me, funnily enough. I just wanted to get inside the head of someone who had seen what he had seen and suffered in ways he could not yet understand or process. And I wanted to tell the story of the Japanese Americans and Canadians as well.
    All best,
    Carol Matas

  2. Sounds like a great read. Yes, I agree, it is soooo important to tell children the stories/history from the past.
    Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Carol Matas- You are welcome. Thank you for a very thought provoking book. Often we understand things looking backwards- just like writing a character and their behavior and then later understanding the reason behind it. I had never read the story behind the Japanese Americans with the Canadian angle before, so I much appreciated that you broadened my horizens!

    Kim Baise- Yes, it is a great read. You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

  4. That book sounds intriguing. It is unfortunate that history tends to repeat itself but most certainly rains true that we must learn from our past. I personally feel that if teachers of our children (grade school, parents, religious leaders etc.) would introduce, encourage and some times even require the reading of some of these books (instead of TV, Internet, Facebook, Youtube, Hulu, Myspace, MP3, ipods, zunes etc.) it would prove healthy as they’d learn from the past and prevent history from repeating itself.

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