Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review : Hitler's Canary

Title : Hitler's Canary
Author : Sandi Toksvig
Publisher : Random House
ISBN : 978-0-440-86662-6
Age Group : 12+ years

'Hitler's Canary' is based on how Danes helped the Jews of their country from the deportation to the concentration camps run by Nazis. The citizens of Denmark (Jews or not) stood together as one united nation which gets evident by this small incident - A German soldier once asked a Denmark passer-by "Who guards your King?" To which the man replied, "We all do".
This book, very much on the same lines as 'Number the Stars' by Lois Lowry (reviewed here), begins in 1940 at Copenhagen, the year when Nazis invaded Denmark and the German soldiers on every street became the regular feature in Denmark.

Bamse, a 10 year old boy is not a Jew but his best friend Anton is. Bamse's theatre actress mother and painter father did not want to get involved in anything political but his elder brother Orlando is part of a resistance group, he cannot accept his country being named 'Hitler's Canary'. He urges his parents to do something and not pretend that everything is normal - 'We have a duty as Danes. Think of our history. We were the first European nation to grant the Jews full, unconditional emancipation. We were the first country to abolish slavery officially. We can't give it now."
But his father has a valid argument too, he believes that 'Denmark is a tiny nation. We can't fight our enemies. We haven't the strength. They won't take the Jews or anyone as long as we cooperate. The Germans will leave us and the Jews alone as long as they are not provoked.' But unfortunately the Jews are not left alone. When he gets the information that the Dane Jews are to be rounded up by the Nazis to be sent to the concentration camps, the whole family works towards protecting the refugees and making arrangements for their safe exit to the neutral grounds of Sweden. In order to accomplish this task they 'do whatever they do well' - his father painting a false wall behind which the refugees could hide and his mother delivering a live performance in front of the Nazi soldiers on the lookout of Jews.

Though set against the backdrop of WW II, nothing heart-wrenching or gruesome is explained in this book, just a lurking fear is subtly conveyed through the narrative which makes it just the appropriate book to introduce the subject of second world war to children. As the author mentions, these are the stories of bravery of average citizens who refused to allow the occupying German army to simply have their own way. He further makes a very important point at the end of the story - 'This is a fiction inspired by the facts but it contains the vital message my father taught to me - the rescue of the Danish Jews was not a story in which all the Germans were bad and all the Danes were good. There were just some good people and some bad people and it wasn't always easy to tell the difference.'

You can go for either of these two books - Hitler's Canary or Number the Stars to get the feel of how Denmark and its citizens reacted to Nazis' invasion. Another very famous book on the same subject is - 'The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas' - a story from the eyes of a German soldier's son.


  1. Wonderful review, Vibha. Have been trying to get my hands on this book. Where did you get it?

  2. Thanks Sandhya. This book is available on flipkart.

  3. My daughter read it when she was 7 and seemed to be quite impressed by it. She was not upset by it. So do you think she can now read ‘Boy in striped Pajamas’? Or would it be too hard-hitting?

  4. Chox, I think she can read 'Boy in striped Pajamas'. The end is disappointing but then I guess there are many emotions that come with that - at least the friends were together in the worst of times. Moreover, anything related to WWII is sad but then all that did happen.


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