Review Blog

May 14 2010

Now by Morris Gleitzman

cover image

Puffin Books, 2010. ISBN 9780670074372.
Ages 10+. Warmly recommended. Zelda, named for her grandfather's best friend who died at the hands of the Nazis, is looked after by her grandfather when her parents leave for Dubai. She has some trouble coping with the bullies at school, and when she tells them of her famous grandfather, a doctor of some repute, she is vilified by her classmates. She tries to make amends, but in so doing destroys her grandfather's precious letters from his patients, collected over many years. All the while, Gleitzman, with consummate ease, builds up a picture of Zelda's grandfather and what happened during the war. Zelda drops in little bits of information about him, trying to please him, but ultimately making him remember things he would prefer to forget. Gelitzman's accomplished writing leads the reader to laugh and cry with the two main protagonists as slowly all of the grandfather's secrets are revealed, and Zelda realises why he always calls her Babushka, rather than her given name.
In the background, bushfires tumble across the hills of Victoria, closer and closer to their home on the outskirts of Melbourne. Fleeing is eventually impossible, and try as they might, they cannot sustain their attempts at putting out the fires in the house. Eventually they find shelter, digging open the hole Zelda's dog has dug, sheltering within the earth, covered by all of their blankets and doonas. When the fire has passed, another disaster unfolds, as their neighbor, Josh, finds it impossible to breathe and so grandfather and Zelda must operate to clear his windpipe.
Gleitzman's skill at distilling major events down to a few pages is staggering. Within the grandfather's time surviving during World War 2, we hear stories of heroism and regret, survival and tragedy. The story of the Victorian bushfires too is distilled into two families, surviving the fires by with courage and a large amount of luck. Both stories are presented thoughtfully and reverently, with room for the reader to ponder such tragedies, one a natural disaster, and the other of human hands.
Grandfather Felix's story has been told in two other books, Once and Then, showing his life surviving the Nazi holocaust, but these do not have to be read to understand or appreciate Now, although having read Now, I'm sure readers will search out the other books.
Fran Knight

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