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The Devil's Arithmetic (Puffin Modern Classics)
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 1999
"Who, who are those men in black suits blocking our wedding," Fayge exclaimed. Chaya yelled,"They're Nazis. Nazis! They will kill six million Jews! Don't you understand we have to run!" All the people including the Rabbi thought Chaya (Hannah) was crazy, but she knew it was just a matter of time until they soon found out the truth. Hannah, in the book The Devil's Arithmetic; is an ordinary girl living in the present day, but when she goes to her grandfather's house she has a strange experience. As she opens the door for the prophet Elijah, she looks foward and finds herself in another time zone. She looks back into the house and sees all of her family members with an elegant and delicious meal on the table. Curious about what was on the other side of the door, she steps out and realizes that she is in the time right before the Holocaust. She is no longer Hannah; she is Chaya, and she is about to embark on a terrifying journey to a concentration camp. The author of this book, Jane Yolen, shows that she has a great talent in writing books that deeply touch your emotions. The content of the book is a great source of history as well as a story filled with morals about life and the human race. Most of the book is written in the form of conversations. This kind of writing style helps the reader really understand the character's feelings and thoughts. In addition, Jane Yolen uses the triple period often, which ;eaves the reader's mind open as to what the character was going to say. Her writing is extremely desriptive, and the detail she includes makes it possible for the reader to imagine the setting. Overall, I think Jane Yolen is a great, and superb writer. I think The Devil's Arithmetic is definitely A Newberry Award winning book. It shows every aspect of being a perfect literary book, including moving content, accurate historical information, desripive vocabulary, and a plot that keeps your attention until the very end. Therefore, I would definitely recommend this book. If you want to know what happens to Chaya, you should read this book. Another reason you should absolutely read this book is because it gives the history of the Holocaust in a unique way. Most importantly it tells how Jews struggled from the best of times to the worst of times.
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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
This is Schindler's List for children, a chilling account of the Holocaust from the point of view of a young girl. Yolen skimps on few details, and you can tell that her story comes straight from the heart.
Hannah, a modern Jewish girl, is irritated by the Passover Seder and the "remembering" of the Holocaust, which some of her relatives lived through. But when she opens the door for Elijah, she is transported through time and space to a village in Poland.
Soon the Nazis arrive, and Hannah (called "Chaya" by everyone in this new time) must both try to survive and to keep her friends alive in the deathcamps.
I tried very, very hard to summarize this story, but the spiritual and emotional tones are simply impossible to talk about. This is an intense book, the descriptions of it simply can't express the greatness of this plot.
A haunting tale of life, death, memory and sorrow. Even though this is a children's book, it may be disturbing for younger readers--you might want to talk to your children about it afterward.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2000
This touching story is based on a 12 year old girl who is living in present day New Rochelle, NY. Her name is Hannah Stern, and the story starts when she goes to her grandpa's house for a Passover celebration. Hannah hates this holiday since she hates remembering anything, espically in the form of a boring Seder. When she opens the door to let Elijah, the prophet in, she finds herself in a shetl dating in the early 40's. She is told the people she is living with are her aunt and uncle. Everyone calls her Chaya, which means life. They tell her she went to live in Lublin, where she and her parents caught cholera. Only she barely survived. This whole time, she convinces herself that it is a strange dream. When she goes to a wedding, she is taken by the Nazis to a concentration camp by train. She befriends Rivka, a 10 year old who has been there a year. She learns how truely important it is to remember, as her memories of her life in New Rochelle fade. Hannah-or Chaya, leanrs how to survive through it all, by keeping memories strong.
I think this was a BRILLIANT book, and I have read it more than once. It may be a little deep for those under 11, but it is good for a reader looking for a challange. Beyond that, it is in depth with the Holocaust. I reccommend anyone studying the subject to read it. Also, I believe this will greatly touch young Jews who seem like Hannah at the beginning of the story. I can't see how the story is unable to touch anyone's heart.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is an excellent book at any time of year, but a great choice to read in honor of both Passover and Yom Ha'Shoah.

The story involves 12 year old Hannah, who is bored out of her mind at her family's Seder in the current day, and just being an unhappy typical pre-teen annoyed by all her older relatives fussing over her and telling her how it's all about remembering yadda yadda.

But when she goes ungraciously to the door to welcome Elijah, the whole world changes and suddenly she is in a Polish shtetl on the eve of a joyous wedding celebration. Everyone thinks she is Chaya, a recently orphaned relative. But when Germans and trucks show up to "resettle" the villagers, Hannah/Chaya is the one who knows what's really happening and what is going to happen.

Hannah/Chaya experiences both the joys of the soon-to-be-gone shtetl life and the horrors of transport and the camps, making this an excellent educational read for young adult readers who aren't interested in non-fiction about the Shoah. And I especially liked the way the framing story acknowledges that sometimes Passover and the Seder can seem like a drag to an older child too old for the "childish" parts of the tradition but not old enough to appreciate the deeper meanings.

This was a very fast read as an adult and I'd recommend it for older kids with some understanding of the Shoah. Even though it's written as a young adult book, I found myself fully involved in the story and moved by it, and was in tears at various parts. It's well worth reading during this season as a reminder of all we need to remember and how much we have to be grateful for in our freedom.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2001
This is by far one of the most touching books I have ever read. The books starts at Passover when Hannah is tired of hearing about the Holocaust. As all the traditions are done Hannah loses much interest. However when Hannah goes to open the door for Elijah she finds that she has been transported back in time to the beginning of the Holocaust. Her new family calles her Chaya. As she and her family is transported to the camp she endures unhumane treatment. However Hannah learns a lot about herself. She learns that memories are very important. However the most important things are friends and family. That is what helps you survive. Hannah befriend a young girl named Rivka. They become very close. They both have to endure the most horrible treatment by the Nazis. Some of which I can even imagine or believe. In the end Hannah makes the ultimate sacrafice for Rivka but she is rewarded in a way she never can imagine back home. I highly recommend this book because it is written so accrualtly and tells of a time the whole world should be ashamed of.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2002
The Devil's Arithmetic is an emotional story about a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl who travels back through time to the year 1942. I read this book because I had read several excellent reviews about it. It turned out to be one of the best books about historical events that I have ever read. The author's decriptive tone gave me a clear image about the different chacters, settings, and events. The theme in this book is that, as hard as it may be at times, you must learn to empathize with others to understand their feelings and points of view. It is never easy to understand what someone has gone through unless you have experienced the same ordeal. Hannah had a hard time understanding what made her grandfather, who had survived the Holocaust, so angry when he saw Nazi footage on television. That was until she herself went through a concentration camp.
The story has three main settings. It begins in Hannah's grandfather's apartment in New York. The story then moves to a small Jewish village in Poland, where Hannah lives for a short period of time. The third and most important setting is in a concentration camp in Poland. This is where most of the book takes place.
Although the vocabulary in this book is not remotely difficult, the reader has to know a bit of backround about the Holocaust to understand the book. It is also a very emotional story, full of sacrifice and hatred. For these reasons, I would recommend this book to anyone who is in the sixth grade and above.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This book won the National Jewish Book Award, among others. The Devil's Arithmetic is the story of young Hannah, a modern-day Jewish girl from New Rochelle, who opens a door, and finds herself living during the Holocaust.

The modern-day Hannah is weary of her family's Passover Seder gatherings, especially her grandfather's rantings and ravings about the past. She knows that her Grandfather Will and his sister Eva survived a concentration camp, the only members of their family to do so. But it's hard to relate to that, in modern-day America.

When Hannah goes to the door to let in Elijah (part of the ritual), she finds herself in another world, living the life of her long-ago namesake, Chaya Abramowicz. It's 1942, and the recently orphaned Chaya is with her extended family in a Polish Jewish shtetl, celebrating her uncle's wedding day. Before the wedding can take place, however, Nazi's appear, and begin the dreaded process of "relocating" the villagers. The remainder of the book follows Hannah/Chaya's experience traveling to and living in a concentration camp. Gradually her memories of life as Hannah desert her, and she becomes immersed in her terrible surroundings.

The Devil's Arithmetic is a powerful story, utterly gripping, though not for the faint of heart. Jane Yolen doesn't shrink from the realities of the Holocaust, though she doesn't dwell on gory descriptions. The book introduces children to the story of the Holocaust in a much more powerful way than simply learning the facts ever could. Reading about the feelings of a protagonist their own age as she experiences the indignities and terrors, large and small, makes the Holocaust much more real. Though no easier to understand.

You can read Jane Yolen's thoughts about the book on her website. She says, "Writers and storytellers are the memory of a civilization, and we who are alive now really must not forget what happened in that awful time or else we may be doomed to repeat it."

This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on June 17th, 2006.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2005
The Devil's Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen is a story about the life-changing incident of a young, Jewish girl named Hannah. She is completely unaware of her culture and its past and refuses to want to learn about it. She has the mindset of, it already happened and "I'm tired of remembering". This is the central theme of Yolen's book. She is trying to show the reader through Hannah that remembering is very important. She doesn't believe that it is important to repeat the story of the Holocaust every year because she already knows it. She feels "babyish" when she has to go through with all the rituals that are to be performed during the Seder. Hannah soon learns an important life lesson not only for herself, but about her culture and family as well.

Jane Yolen did an outstanding job of retelling the harsh lives of the Jews in concentration camps. Yolen shows that while some caged lives became slaves for the Nazi's and lost hope, others never gave up. Hannah is transported to 1940 Germany. She sees and experiences what really happened to her biological family and her religious family. Hannah goes through many experiences in which she learns something new, interesting, and most of the time painful about her culture. By the end of the book, Hannah learns to appreciate her culture and learns something amazing about one of her close family members.

I recommend this book to children and even adults who want to begin learning about the Holocaust. It is informative yet at the same time not too graphic for children and those who are beginning to learn about the horrible time period. It is also a story of a young girl finding out about her culture and her family. This is an important time in a young girls life. Teens are often struggling to find themselves and this is a common woman's issue for young girls. In the end, Hannah finds herself in a truly remarkable way. If you finish the book, which isn't very long (164 pages) and continue to have an interest in the topic of the Holocaust, I suggest that you read I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson. It's a book for ages 12 and up but it is a good direction to go if you want to continue to learn about the harsh time of the Holocaust.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2003
Do you like to read books about WWII? This is a pretty good fiction book about it.
One day Hannah went to her Grandpa Will's house, but she didn't want to. At her grandpa's she had to open the door for a prophet called Elijah. When she opened the door all of the sudden she was in Poland 1942. She tells her new friends that she made in Poland. She told her friends about some new movies that she saw. At Fayge's wedding the Nazis came and took all the people and put them on boxcars to go to a concentration camp. She met a girl named Rivka. When she got home she talked to her Aunt Eva. Hannah (Chaya) found out that Aunt Eva was Rivka.
I liked the book. Before I read the whole book I wondered how she got home. I would really want to read a sequel to this book. I rate this book three star because it was a good book and had lots of mystery, like how Hannah would get home and how she got to Poland.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2005
Jane Yolen put the Devil's Work into words with this story. When young Hannah, a jewish girl, is forced to go with her family to Seder she can only complain. I mean, who wants to remember about the Holocaust when you could be eating jelly beans with you best friend? She only hopes that she can eat and run, but when she's told to open the door for the prophet Elijah, she's taken back to where it all started. Captured and taken into a concentration camp, is knowing, or not knowing scarier for the horrors of the Holocaust?

A quote that really caught my eye, and explains almost perfectly the Holocaust, "The snake smiles, but it shows no teeth" It's not just for the Holocaust that this comes into play.

Perhaps the best thing about the book is that it tells the facts through a young girl's eyes. If you want good information, about how it felt to be living in the Holocaust, then this is a great book for you. My favorite character, Rivka, shows just how strong you had to be. She lost all of her family except her brother, and yet she has the strength to take in Hannah and her friends under her wing, teach them the rules, and she's only ten years old! Always smiling, it's amazing how strong they all were.

I only wish that she had met (more of) her camp friends, but I suppose it only goes to show you how few really did survive. I wonder what happened after Hannah grew up.

Tell your family, friends, and anyone who you think would like to read it, "It will remind us to remember that holidays are for remembreing, and why we are doing them, not how."
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