The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes books are so special we want to keep them all to ourselves. The Berlin Boxing Club is one of those books; it's like having a secret that only we know about a great story. Written by Robert Sharenow (whose additional work I will be looking into), the book traces the real life story of boxing hero Max Schmelling during the rise of Hitler to power through the protege story of Karl Stern. The book is a work of fiction, and Karl Stern was not a real child that Max Shmelling took under his wing, but the plot of the book develops throughout Max's career, and it is historically known that Max Schmelling did help two Jewish children escape Nazi Germany; a fact he rarely spoke of (humble).
Karl Stern is a Jew. He is a non-religous Jew with a father that owns an art gallery and has very little regard for the traditions of his people. Karl is also fortunate in that he doesn't look Jewish - he is tall and blond with light eyes and fair skin. But as a group of boys known as the "Wolf Pack" become aware of his "transgression" they ferret him out and do what stupid boys do...beat him down. However, in a stroke of luck, Max Schmelling attends his father's gallery opening that night and notices the long arms, the reach, the lean physique of Karl and trades his father a painting for boxing lessons. And thus begins the rise of Karl Stern, and the fall of Jews in Germany.
The story is so well-written. The prose in and of itself is worth examining. The story of the Holocaust has been told, this is true, but in each telling I find new information and I learn more and more about the persecution of the Jewish people. Robert Sharenow does a remarkable job balancing the characters' actions and interactions during such a dangerous time. The backdrop of the boxing world gives structure and setting to the story in way that I'm not sure I give credit in description, but the idea of a young Jew learning to fight, to stand for himself and his family, creates an uplifting hope in a world that is decimated by hate.
An enthusiastic two-thumbs up, five stars, etc...Robert Sharenow goes on the shelf with authors like Ruta Sepytys among collections of books that are mine, and mine alone. (I'll let CJ read it though!)
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