Brantford Expositor Review - Run Like Jager

Brantford Expositor
Reviewed by: Marsha Skrypuch

This excellent first novel is about a Canadian teen who delves into his German-born grandfather's Second World War secrets. Kurt Schreiber has quizzed his grandfather, also named Kurt Schreiber, about his Nazi past, but his questions have been met with stony silence. Kurt fears that his grandfather may have committed atrocities and this is why he refuses to speak. The teen has recurring nightmares and feels that he must get to the truth for his own peace of mind. The teen travels to Germany as an exchange student. Kurt chooses to study in Zethen, a town just outside of Berlin, where the elder Kurt was born. He is befriended by a local student named Marta and is bullied and taunted by another named Peter. Townspeople recognize Kurt's name and many remember his grandfather. Peter's bullying includes a taunt that Kurt is a coward just like his grandfather had been. Marta offers to help Kurt crack the mystery of his grandfather's past, and they go through old newspapers together at the library looking for clues. There is an article about an accident that provides more family names. When he visits the local cemetery in search of more clues, Kurt meets an elderly man who calls him by name. Herr Brandt was a close friend of Kurt's grandfather, and it seems the grandson bears an uncanny physical resemblance to his namesake. The teen is intrigued when he realizes that Herr and and his grandfather were in the German army together and fought on the eastern front. Kurt senior's wartime past unfolds in vivid flashbacks through Herr Brandt's voice. Seamlessly interwoven with this compelling past story is a contemporary one of Kurt's growing affection for Marta, as well as an escalation of Peter's bullying. The past and present stories culminate in a page-turning ending. Karen Bass writes the day-to-day experiences of the grandfather as a youth with the kind of gripping detail that comes only from careful research. She shows the gradual progression of a regular teen propagandized into Nazi ideals, first as a member of the compulsory Hitler Youth, and then later as a Wehrmacht soldier. Disillusionment comes when the friends are stationed on the eastern front and witness brutality and kindness from both sides. The author unflinchingly reveals both Soviet and Nazi horrors. To her credit, Bass does not try to rationalize or explain away the evil that was Nazi Germany, yet she is able to provide much needed context. She shows there is no such thing as a good person or an evil person, but that all of us are capable of both courage and cowardice within certain circumstances. Run Like Jager is a superb novel that will appeal to parents and grandparents as well as teens. It could be used as a launching pad for a conversation that begins with, 'What did you do during the war, Grandpa?' Article by Marsha Skrypuch.

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