Teen books can take on some heavy topics – but rarely have I found one as disturbing as this historical fiction about the last “blood libel” trail in Europe. A good read, and important case study in hate and hysteria, it is nonetheless a hard one to look at straight on.
by Eva Wiseman
ISBN: 978 1 77049 296 7
There was once a lie that lasted for centuries. It’s not the only one that has existed, but it is especially heinous to think that people believed Jews murdered gentile children and baked their blood into a ritual bread. This was known as the “blood libel,” and in 1883, a group of Jewish men in Hungary faced the last trial based on this belief after a young girl went missing and her mother whipped the village into a frenzy.
This account of the events of 1882 to the end of the trial is told from the perspective of the missing girl’s friend, Julie. She is a caring girl who worries for her friend, and who has problems of her own once her mother dies and her abusive, alcoholic father sends her beloved little sister away to an inhumane relative. She sees her friend the day she disappears, knows the boy who is tormented into confessing, and is in the end involved enough and has enough information that she becomes a witness in the trial, which she attends by stealth. We get through her a very complete picture of everything from start to finish, and the picture is not a pretty one at all.
Not only does the antisemitism that was rampant allow horrible accusations to go unquestioned, but corruption and abuse on the part of the police are all but overlooked when they help corner Jews for a crime they didn’t commit, and children are abused or placed in danger in many ways throughout this story. It is, as I said, a hard thing to read, but it is also a reflection of the brutality of that time and how it often went unpunished. For a historical fiction fan, it is a devastating picture of a time and
place with little room for kindness, and pulls no punches in portraying
how harsh life could be in that time and place. More specifically, for a teen who wants to know more about history and antisemitism, it is an excellent read, and one of the few books on the issue that focuses on a time outside of World War II.
Also available as an ebook.