After the Train is the first book I've read by prolific children's author, Gloria Whelan. This is a unique children's novel about the years after the Holocaust. I'm interested in Holocast stories in general, but specifically in stories that deal with the ways people "inherit" the atrocity of such an event. Books like Art Spiegelman's Maus and Thane Rosenbaum's The Golems of Gotham are as much about the children of Holocaust survivors and how they cope as they are about the atrocity itself.
After the Train, is about Peter Liebig. He can't wait for summer. He's tired of classrooms and his teacher's endless lectures about the Nazis. The war has been over for ten years, and besides, his town of Rolfen, West Germany, has moved on nicely. Despite its bombed-out church, it looks just as calm and pretty as ever. There is money to be made at the beach, and there are whole days to spend with Father at his job. And, of course, there's soccer. Plenty for a thirteen-year-old boy to look forward to (adapted from publisher blurb).
Soon, Peter begins to recount a recurring nightmare he's had over the years...a strange woman's face covered in tears and pleading, shouts from all around, and the feeling of being pushed through a door or window--from darkness into light. From this dream, Whelan's story begins to take off. Peter finds a picture of the woman in his dream in his parents' letters and must convince them to share more about the past than they are comfortable telling.
In style and tone, the book is well done. It's a different view of the Holocaust tha I've seen in children's literature before though it's a common view in adult literature. Whelan's writing is tempered and nicely paced. However, among all the interest and artistry, I have to admit...it felt a little....monotone? Even when I felt as if I should experience some great emotion through Peter, I was underwhelmed. It's possible that Whelan had every intention of creating this sense of restraint. Peter has a good head on his shoulders and handles a great deal of revelation and change with grace and the writing reflects that. Having read other Holocaust novels that were much more emotional (The Book Thief, etc.) I expected more of an emotional punch. The result is actually a very cerebral novel for a children's book.
While I felt less than satisfied at times, intellectually, I would consider this a good book. It's a novel I would like to teach to future children's lit courses (maybe in the Fall).
Visit Whelan's website.