Re-reading Childhood


Cozy domestic tale? check

Life affirming family story? check

A pet sheep called Rachel? check

Clothes being fashioned from other clothes? check

Post-war Europe? check

Life in a converted rail car? check

I mean hello, what isn’t to love about this book?

When I was in grade school I read The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert. I have no recollection of why I checked it out of the library years ago but it has stayed close to my heart in the 32 years since I read it. I thought of it recently and decided to see if I could find a copy online. Out of print and seemingly scarce, I found a few copies around $45 but the prices went up quickly from there. Maybe I could find a copy in the underfunded DC Public Library system. And lo and behold there it was, the only library copy in DC at my neighborhood library.

Being in the juvenile section of the library was trippy enough but to find the exact edition that I read all those years ago was fantastic. Even the pages smelled the same as they did when I was 10.

So would The Ark live up to my childhood recollections? Yes. I loved this book as much now as I did then. Except now I am also fascinated by the fact that the WWII refugees in this case were from Silesia and Pomerania who may have indeed fought on the side of the Nazis, although it isn’t explicit, and the author does take a moment to mention that the family was not sympathetic to the government. On the one hand it is a little hard to feel much sympathy for the deprivations suffered by these refugees given the horror that had so recently been suffered by six million Jews. On the other hand…well it is hard to come up with another hand, I have never really read anything about how life in German attempted to get back to “normal” after the war and the Holocaust. I have certainly read all about the big stories of war criminals and such, but never anything about the average German trying not only to survive but somehow make sense of what had gone on in the Fatherland. Right or wrong these issues don’t play much of a role in this book.

I really wish this book was in print so I could send out a few copies into the blogosphere for review. I think many of you would enjoy it, but I am also curious how it should be approached vis-a-vis the Nazi question above.   And most of all, I think this would make a great Persephone re-issue. It is certainly a more interesting children’s book than the Persephone-published The Runaway.

11 thoughts on “Re-reading Childhood

  1. Nan October 26, 2011 / 7:06 pm

    I've never heard of it, but your writeup is fascinating. Why don't you write to Persephone? They seem quite attentive to their readers, don't you think?


  2. mary October 26, 2011 / 9:41 pm

    Have you ever read A Woman in Berlin, which was published anonymously, an absolutely fascinating account of the aftermath of war in Berlin?
    (I do agree that The Runaway is a disappointing Persephone; I never did finish it, even though it's so short.)


  3. GeraniumCat October 27, 2011 / 7:56 am

    I desperately wanted to live in a railway carriage (or possibly a double-decker bus) when I was young – I was always drawing up plans for how it would be arranged. Just the cover art alone is enough to make me want to read this. I shall add it to my wish list of books to look out for.


  4. Karen K. October 29, 2011 / 8:39 am

    “Life in a converted rail car? check” — LOL! Shades of the boxcar children, but in Germany!

    I've never heard of this but of course I clicked over to the library OPAC. My library doesn't have it but of course I checked WorldCat and it's at the nearest college library. Once again I am thankful for my TexShare card.

    Thanks for sharing this, it sounds like exactly the sort of book I would love.


  5. Thomas at My Porch October 29, 2011 / 11:33 am

    Nan: I think you are right about Persephone but I think I might need to find a copy for them. I remember reading something about them not publishing a book because they couldn't find a copy from which to make a copy.

    Mary: I didn't finish The Runaway either! I loved the engravings, but the story was so boring for an adult. I will have to check out A Woman in Berlin, it sounds fascinating.

    GeraniumCat: Before I was born my parents actually lived in a converted rail car! We have pictures of the inside of it, but I am not sure if we have any of the outside. It was always referred to the carnook.

    Karen K: I am not sure what my ILL options are here in DC. I have very low expectations through the public library and all of the universities around here are private–or in another state! I miss being able to use my alumni library card at the University of Minnesota. If Rick Perry has his way and Texas comes up with a $10,000 Bachelor's degree I wonder what will happen to the Uni system.


  6. Susan in TX October 29, 2011 / 3:38 pm

    This one sounds like a winner! (I think you had a better school library than I did :) )


  7. Unknown November 2, 2012 / 1:34 pm

    Have you read the sequel, Rown Farm? I think some of her books make it very clear that her characters were not Nazis but very much caught up in the war. European liberals, by and large. If you can get hold of Castle on the border, I highly recommend it.


  8. Unknown November 2, 2012 / 1:35 pm

    Sorry should have checked more carefully before osting. That should read Rowan Farm. And I am Elizabeth in the UK.


  9. Thomas at My Porch November 4, 2012 / 10:08 am

    Elizabeth: That is good to know that the characters probably weren't Nazis. It didn't seem like they would be, but I didn't know enough of the history to know what the situation might have been.


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