Pressler, Mirjam. Malka. translated from the German by Brian Murdoch. Speak, 2005. ISBN 978-0142402696 288 pp. $
It may seem as though I never read books that I don’t like. This is not true, I do often dislike books and will often not finish a book that I am unhappy with. So, here again I will tell you about a book that I really liked!
Malka is a new juvenile fiction book written by Mirjam Pressler and translated from the German by Brian Murdoch. This novel is a Holocaust era book following the lives of a Jewish family, Hannah and her two daughters, Malka and Minna (their father is mostly absent from the book since he lives in Palestine). Hannah is a doctor and very well respected in her community because of her profession. She treats Jews and Germans and for this reason never thinks that she and her girls might someday be sent away to a Jewish ghetto by the Germans. When the Germans really get tough on removing Jews from Poland, Hannah finally realizes that even she is not safe and she takes her girls on the long trek to Hungary where they should be able to find refuge.
Climbing mountains with her daughters, especially the young Malka, proves much more difficult than imagined and when Malka grows ill, they make the difficult decision to leave her with a farmer and family who have given them shelter for the night. It is agreed that the farmer will bring Malka to Hannah and Minna when she is well. With pressure and fear that the Germans are near and willing to harm people helping the Jews, the farmer sends Malka off, and a seven-year-old girl is tossed out on her own in a chaotic world. Her survival instincts take over and she manages to barely make it, roaming from place to place, from family to family until she is eventually living alone in a coal cellar in the basement of a house in a Jewish ghetto. Unfortunately, she suffers in many ways, she is hungry, cold and worst of all, becoming mentally ill from the many deprivations she faces.
Silence pervades this story. The characters are constantly trying to be quiet so as not to be caught by the Germans. Malka spends so much time alone that she becomes silent as well, except for the racing thoughts in her brain and the occasional request for bread or an apple. Then there is the silence of the non-Jews who do not report or retaliate against the terrible things that the Germans are doing.
Pressler uses the third person point of view to further the silence. The quiet of the mountains, the silence of the empty ghettos after the Germans host an “operation,” either killing Jews on the spot or sending them to camps, Hannah’s inability to communicate the guilt she feels for leaving Malka. These things sent me into silent, deep thought, but also made me rage with anger over the horrible things that happened during WWII and the horrible things happening now in the Middle East and Africa and everywhere, really. We are still silent.