Karl Stern is an artistic, lanky, beat up, Jewish fourteen year-old boy whose only refuge is drawing cartoons for his younger sister and himself. All that changes in an instant when he meets the boxer, Max Schmeling in his father’s art gallery. In exchange for a painting, Karl will receive lessons from the world renowned fighter and national German hero. Suddenly he has a purpose: train to become a boxing legend. As the years go by and he gets stronger, both physically and emotionally, so does the hatred for the Jews in Germany. This new generation of anti-Semitism starts when Karl gets expelled from school and grows until his family is forced to live in Mr. Stern’s gallery. Though the Stern’s have never set foot into a synagogue and do not consider themselves “Jewish”, they are still subjects to this kind of anti-Semitism. They try to make the best of it, but Karl can see how much it affects his family. His mother is getting moodier by the day, his sister, Hildy, hates herself because of her dark hair and “Jewish” nose and his father is printing illegal documents for some secret buyers. On Kristallnacht the gallery is broken into and the family is torn apart. Karl must now comfort his sister and search for his injured father and his mother. With the help of some of exceptional people, he manages to get over these many obstacles and make his way to America.
Throughout the book there were two ideas that kept reoccurring: Karl’s comics that he shared with his sister (“Winzig und Spatz”) and also when he realizes that all the people he knew were not who he thinks they were.
Winzig und Spatz was a book about a mouse and a sparrow that Karl and Hildy read as children. She started calling Karl, Spatz, and in turn Karl called her Winzig. Karl drew cartoons based on the book to cheer up her in many situations. At the beginning of the book during a hard time Karl quoted the book by saying: “There is adventure in the air…” and his sister would reply “…and cake to be eaten”. This always gladdened his sister. Bringing the book to a close he repeated it again while they were on the boat to America, not knowing what was going to happen next. I think that this is an important idea because not only does it bring the book to a complete circle but it also shows the connection that the siblings had to each other. It helped them through their times of trouble and reminded them that even though everything has changed and will continue to do so, they still have a piece of their past with them forever.
The second idea that kept reappearing was all the times that Karl would rethink about his family and friends and find that they are not at all what they first seemed to be. For example: at the beginning of the novel Karl saw his father as weak, cowardly and a little too artsy. However, at the end Karl finds a sketch of his father...