Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Once - Morris Gleitzman

This book is one of those books I see everywhere but for some reason never attempt to pick up despite how short the book is and the time period its set in that I find interesting.
So, when I was at the library last month with my friend, who was going away for the whole of August, shoved this in my hand to borrow, I didn't complain but meekly say 'Okay then.' and walk over to the new weird too much technology of a computer which the libraries have decided to replace real people stamping a book. Now, you can go around a library and ironically not talk to anyone at all.
Sorry, anyway. The book.

Synopsis: The story follows Felix, a Jewish boy with a wild imagination and inclination to tell wonderful stories, at the height of the Second World War in Poland, where he escapes a convent to try and find his parents to warn them that the Nazis are 'book haters' after he witnesses soldiers burning books in the convent library. Along the way, he meets Zelda, a orphaned girl who has no idea of what it happening to the world around her. Soon, they find their way to the cellar of a print house in a Warsaw ghetto where, with others, they are fighting to save their lives.

Review: Once is a short story, much like a possible story Felix would tell himself. The story itself is sad, poignant and all together too real. We all know the story of how Hitler came to power, how the Nazis got support, what they did to innocent people and especially, their hatred and killing of the Jews before and during the Holocaust. We have studied it, analysed every tactic used and maybe even shed a tear over it - I know I could write a couple of essays on that period of German history, good and, mostly, bad points. It's something we know so much about, especially it happening just over 70 years ago, yet why do some things still get to us and surprise us?

This is one of those books that could make you feel a lot of things - sad, happy, depressed, surprised, confusion. There is a whirlwind of emotions that you feel throughout this book. This is mostly down to Felix's nativity of what is happening, he is no idea what every event means and why people are being so bitter. It is so heart breaking to think that a little Jewish harmless boy could have been through something very similar to the one told in this book, you want to tell him what is happening. Tell him to stop making excuses of what is happening. It is stressful really. But, although by now, you may be thinking that this book probably isn't the best option for the summer holidays (and it probably isn't really), the ending make me so happy and made everything I felt beforehand in the book worthwhile. There are glimmers of sadness in the last paragraphs, but for Felix, it is a happy one and I guess for the unlucky others too. The ending really does round the book off and make it a happy, rewarding book really.

Felix is an interesting protagonist. He has suffered a lot, although he doesn't particularly think so and tries to help others who are worst off than him. Even as a boy, he never thinks of himself. The motto on my copy of the book is 'Everybody deserves to have something good in their life. At least Once' which to be honest, I didn't pay much attention to but after reading, I sort of understand more what it means. You will too, if you read it.
Like I said, Felix is an interesting choice. He is at the age where he knows what is happening around him, but doesn't completely understand until told. We get both sad and hilarious alternative views of events throughout the story, that really show you how children of that age think. I liked Felix as a narrator, he was interesting and heart warming. I wanted to know him personally.
Zelda, on the other hand, is completely different. I really did not like her at all. Okay, so her parents are dead and she has no idea what is going on or who Felix is. And she keeps getting ill, but why the meanness, girl? She continuous kept saying to Felix 'Don't you know anything?' which if I was Felix, I would have punched her right from the first time she said that. I'm sorry, but hey, I've just been knocked unconscious and just woken up, of course I have no idea who this weird, strange but kind man is, Zelda? Get a little perspective! Okay, so she was nice in some parts, but not much. Did. Not. Like. Her. At. All.
Right, my rant in done. That is kind of the only thing I really didn't like with this book.

The book is a great and original portrayal of what life was like for a young Jewish boy like Felix and also, of life in the Polish ghettos. Throughout the book, there is a constant sense of fear, anticipation of the Nazis to be around the corner, brain washing and ultimately, hate. It is not a book you would read to feel how great you life is, but to look around at yourself and appreciate life as it comes, good and bad like Felix does. I have a feeling Felix and his story will stay on for a long time now.
Verdict: READ IT! But it isn't perfect, and have tissues ready.

I give it 4 out of 5

This is the first in the Once trilogy, the second and third being, Then and Now. I might have a look out for them at the library just to see the rest of Felix's story.

Author's Website: http://www.morrisgleitzman.com/
Pages: 150
Publisher: Penguin
Challenges: BBC, Historical Fiction

Related Posts:
Book #2: Then
Book #3: Now
Book #4: After

Other Books set during the Nazis:
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
Chocolate Cake with Hitler - Emma Craigie
Annexed - Sharon Dogar
Auslander - Paul Dowswell


  1. I love books set during World War 2, although it is a very sad time. I am currently reading The Book Theif, and I'm loving it! It is set during WW2 as well.

  2. I know I do too. The period of history, the Tudors and Romans are my favourites.
    Oh yeah I have a copy of that but I've never read it, I've heard it's amazing.

  3. Hi Rebecca, I come via The Bookette as I have to admit I was a bit dubious when I saw Morris Glietzman as he was recommended to me by an Australian student as an Australian author, but you are right that he is English born. Maybe I can finally get some of his books in. Your review for Once certainly has piqued my interest.
    Also I saw that you like vintage clothes and this blog: http://thecraftymsdevil.wordpress.com/ might interest you.

  4. Yeah, do try him, they are very good and short too so can easily fit them in if you have nothing else to read.
    Oh thank you, I'll check it out.

  5. Once again, good reveiw on a good book Pbates :)

  6. I really want to know what Felix means by "Everybody deserves something to have something good in their life. At least once. I have. Mor than once". Does he say that to compare others to himself? and do u think it is a good motto by which to make people live that way?


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