Based on a true story, Isaac is the story of a sixteen year old boy who lives in Poland with his family when the Nazi’s occupy. In the opening chapter, he is taken with his family and all the other Jewish people living in the area out into the woods where they are summarily shot and buried in a shallow mass grave.
But by sheer chance, Isaac survives. Heading further into the wilderness to escape the soldiers and his own townspeople who have turned against him, this book is the story of his survival. In the dense woods and marshland, where eventually he joins up with other displaced people who have become rebels, he manages to survive until the end of the war.
Karmon is a writer of plays and poetry, as well as an established screenwriter, and he came across the man who this story is based on in New York, and was told his story over several sittings. It’s a moving tale, which Karmon chooses to tell in a simple, almost fairytale like style. Not in the sense that he glosses over anything, but in the sense that he uses simple sentences and a sparse writing style. (It reads like a screenplay or journalistic writing, not like literary fiction, for example)
The story itself is quite remarkable and one that I think will draw many readers. It doesn’t shy away from the truth, so it’s quite a tragic read, which is to be expected for a story that takes place during the Holocaust. Perhaps my only criticism is that in some places the simplicity of the writing style means that certain emotional passages feel a little melodramatic, and the hero of the story feels a bit one dimensional. But I also feel that by keeping it simple and not embellishing, Karmon keeps to the truth of the story without taking many liberties with the source.
Stories like these are hard to read, perhaps, because they are full of violence and tragedy (this one is tasteful but doesn’t shy away from the truth), but I think there is a value in them not just because we shouldn’t forget darker times in order to not repeat historical mistakes, but also on a simpler level, because everyone must live through sadness and tragedy, and knowing that someone has survived worse reminds us that there is always hope in the darkness.
Read It If: some of you might shy away from the tragedy and darkness of this story, but it’s rewarding, if simply written.