This book was beautiful. I was in Warsaw not 5 months ago! And I had no idea of the history linked to that city. This book opened my eyes to the horrors and tragedies of World War 2 in Warsaw, where millions of Jewish Poles were terrorised and eventually executed by the Germans.
Interestingly, Eva Weaver is a German herself, and she writes from the perspective of a young Jewish boy in Poland. Some would say this is insensitive, but I admire Weaver for putting herself in these shoes, trying to see the world through Mika’s eyes. Having recently spent some time in Berlin as well, I could sense the weight that lies on the current generation of Germans – people who must live with the history of their ancestors, without having committed the atrocities themselves. The whole of Berlin felt weighted down by something invisible. But, there’s this tiny gleam of hope, respect and a desire to make amends and move on with life without forgetting.
I have a lot of feelings about this, because it’s so emotional, but let me tell you about this story.
It begins in 2009 New York, Mika as an old man walking through the city with his grandson. He sees a sign for a puppet show about The Puppet Boy of Warsaw and it’s like a blow to him. He goes home with his grandson, takes out an old coat, and tells his story.
Mika was a young boy in Warsaw at the time of the German invasion in 1939. We see in his retelling how confusing it all was, and how things slowly moved from bad to worse. First, the Jews were moved from their comfortable homes into a tiny ghetto in a tiny corner of the city. Families were crammed together in tiny apartments, rations were mere morsels, and the population began to dwindle from starvation and disease. The oppression of the Germans was felt almost immediately, with no mercy given and people shot in the streets at the drop of a hat. This is how Mika’s grandfather was killed, leaving Mika with his special coat, fitted out with dozens of little pockets sewn inside.
We see how Mika struggles to survive, and puts on puppet shows in the ghetto to keep spirits up. We see how the Germans begin to ship Jews off in cattle trains – 7,000 people each day transported to their deaths in camps. We see how a certain German soldier forces Mika to performs his puppet shows for the army, and how Max comes to be fond of Mika, who’s the same age as his son.
Weaver takes us through the Warsaw Uprising – a final attempt by the Jews to protect their lives, and how it comes too late. Mika escapes and finally makes a new life in America. Then, we follow the story of the German soldier Max.
After the war, we see how the Germans are rounded up and shipped off to gulags in Siberia. Max barely stays alive there for years and years performing intense manual labour for the Russians, and then escapes, only to almost die traversing Siberia on his own. Eventually, miraculously, Max makes it back to his family in Germany – but nothing is the same. He lives a life of regret, remorse and sadness. He tells his story to his granddaughter, and eventually she goes on to create a puppet show about her grandfather’s tales of Mika the puppet boy of Warsaw.
Ughhhh! It all ended by beautifully, and I cried my eyes out. On his deathbed, Mika is presented with a small prince puppet which he gave to Max when they parted ways in the 40s. Max’s granddaughter hunts Mika down and reunites him with his favourite puppet. It’s in no way an appropriate apology for everything that happened, but it’s a gesture.
I. Am. Done. This book challenged me in a real way. Soz for the ramble about it, the crude re-telling. I just loved it. I was there – right in the city where it happened, so it was all too real.