Prairie Fire Review - Run Like Jäger
Reviewed by: Donna Gamache
Run Like Jäger by Alberta writer Karen Bass is a thought-provoking book for middle teen readers, although many adults might enjoy it, too.
Seventeen-year-old Kurt Schreiber from Calgary is spending a year in Germany as an exchange student. The main purpose is to improve his language skills, but there is another underlying reason. His grandfather, also named Kurt Schreiber, had grown up in Germany but he has always refused to discuss his life there, and young Kurt is both eager and fearful to learn about it:
He [Kurt] had once read a quote that said if you didn't know history, you were doomed to repeat it. . . .The need to know was beginning to burn inside, scorching his gut. (29)
Kurt has managed to arrange to be billeted with a family in the town where his grandfather lived, and he has enjoyed most of his time there, except when he is tormented by a bully, Peter Meumeyer, who taunts him and calls him a coward, "Just like your grandfather." Kurt also begins to have frightful nightmares in which he dreams that he is his own grandfather about to take part in various atrocities during the Second World War. He begins to search old newspapers for details about his grandparents. Then one day, after several months, Kurt accidentally meets Herr Brandt, his grandfather's boyhood friend. The old man is struck by how much Kurt resembles his grandfather, and Kurt realizes this man can help him learn what he longs to know.
This was what he wanted, wasn't it? A person, not newspaper clippings. A person who could tell him the truth. Coward. Not an accusation, but the truth." (47)
At first Brandt is reluctant to talk about the past, but eventually, once Kurt's grandfather agrees, he begins to recount details of his early life. Before long Kurt starts to learn things he would rather not know. Herr Brandt wants Kurt to call him 'Wolf' and he calls Kurt's grandfather 'Jäger,' both nicknames from the past. Over several weeks Wolf relates detailed stories about their time as impressionable ten-year-olds, as teenagers in the Hitler Youth in the years leading up to the war, and finally as soldiers in the German army fighting on the eastern front against Russian troops. Gradually Kurt begins to understand and accept his grandfather's participation in the war.
Beesides the historical part of the story, there is a romantic aspect in the present that will appeal to teenagers. Kurt's friendship with Marta, a girl from his class, slowly develops into more than friendship, especially when he learns that she is Herr Brandt's granddaughter. But as he comes to understand and accept Jäger and Wolf, he must also learn of his own strengths and weaknesses. He must decide how to deal with Peter's bullying, and what to do with his own life.
Run Like Jäger is Karen Bass's first novel. As an adult reader, I particularly liked the historical aspect and the German viewpoint before and during the war. I'll watch more for writing from this author.