Monday, 6 August 2012

Book Review: 'After' by Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman is a writer and speaker that has the talent to engage his audience – both young and old alike. His thirty three books have been, and still are, a cherished part of many Australian childhoods. His latest release After, from the series including Once, Then and Now, promises to be yet another classic.

After adds to the story of Felix and Zelda, two children growing up amidst the horrors of Nazi Germany. It is a confronting but important story that shows Gleitzman’s ability to present children with the moral complexities of history and the everyday, and the joys and hardships experienced in life, in a way that they can understand.

Both Gleitzman and his publisher, Penguin, were nervous about Gleitzman’s decision to write a series set against the dismaying time of the Holocaust during World War II. However, when advanced copies of Once distributed throughout the book industry, Gleitzman was assured that the book would have a place in Australian children’s literature. It did, and so do the three subsequent books following Felix’s story.

After is a misleading title because it describes events that take place before Now. Gleitzman admitted that he calls the four books a group rather than a series as they do not have a linear or logical flow. Usually a well-planned author, Gleitzman discovered that his planning does not extend to ordering the sequence of his books.

Gleitzman explained that he can only write a story if he has formed a real friendship with a character. The upside of the friendship is that when the book is done and he or she is on the way to the imaginations and hearts of the readers, the goodbye is not total. All those friendships continue and those characters stay with him. Yet Felix’s presence was stronger than the other, he nagged Gleitzman until Gleitzman realised that he had neglected a very important part of Felix’s life and that it was not time to say goodbye yet.

Without giving too much away, After returns to the point in Felix’s life where the young boy takes control of his own life. As Gleitzman says, no matter how supportive our family and friends have been, the person that is going to steer us the most in our life is ourselves. Felix’s story of becoming an adult and contributing citizen was one that needed to be told. Felix realises that, to put it simply, there are people who break and people who mend and he decides that he wants to be a mending person. Although we know of Felix’s decision from, it is interesting and integral to know why that
decision was made.

Gleitzman does not have favourite characters, yet he admitted that Felix and Zelda from Once, Then, Now and After are his closest fictional friends as they have been on a journey with Gleitzman for almost fifteen years. The stories that these two face are bigger than those in most of his other books and as a result, Gleitzman has been more concerned for their welfare.

Gleitzman has always written books for the age group of 8 and above, so he know before he wrote Once that most of his readers wouldn’t have experienced or known of what Felix encounters during WWII or come close to it. Reading the book would raise important questions for his readers. That’s why Once, Then, Now and After are structured as a journey so that young readers can discover the world as Felix does. It is a challenging world that explores all that humans are capable of: good and bad.

Children get an idea that the world is a troubled and unsettling place and Gleitzman’s writing reflects that. Significantly though, his fiction also shows the other side of life and human behaviour that the news, for instance, often neglects. Mostly, After is about friendship because what better way to explore the power of friendship than by putting it amongst such unfriendly and cruel behaviour?

– Review by Nat

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