Title: This is My Song
Written by Richard Yaxley
An Omnibus Book from Scholastic Australia
Crossing three generations on three different continents, this book explores the lasting effects of the Holocaust. Rafael Ullmann grew up mostly in Prague, until he and his family were interned in Terezin, a ghetto. His father, Czech-born Josef, was a lover of Teutonic literature, music and poetry. Rafael could not abide his father’s obsession with poetry and, what appears, his increasing insanity.
“What has poetry ever done to advance the world? More so, German poetry? Why champion literature from a nation that has wallowed like an obese bather in its own terrible arrogance and selfishness?” p. 11
Suffering terribly, treated horrifically, Rafael is eventually transported to Auschwitz as a teenager. A gifted musician, it is from this time he cannot abide music in his life after he is liberated and settles in Canada with his wife and daughter.
Annie is twelve years old when we meet her, living in isolation on the Canadian prairie with her secluded father and deaf and mute mother. Their isolation is both geographical and social. Music is never allowed in their cabin, nor is the television or the radio. Annie and her mother secretly purchase a turntable, playing the one record when Rafael is out working.
Joe, Annie’s son, lives in Australia. He accompanies his mother to formally identify his dead Grandfather in the nearby nursing home in which he has been living since moving from Canada. It is during this visit that a nurse alerts both Annie and Joe to Rafael’s tattoo – B4198. Annie and Joe receive Rafael’s belongings. Among them is the mysterious, small brown suitcase that was always off limits to Annie as a child. Here she finds her father’s past. We follow Joe as he comes to terms with his Grandfather’s past, paralleled with his own life at school and dealing with his parent’s separation.
This is an exquisite book. The language is lyrical, the imagery beautiful and the characters well written. The Holocaust is the basis of Rafael’s section, and the background and steering force behind Annie and Joe’s sections. We also see into the lives of all three characters individually, as they experience their teenage years in very different circumstances.