Sunday, June 9, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow has been a "should read" for me for awhile now. It’s YA historical fiction and it has been receiving great reviews. So every time I hear it mentioned (or see it mentioned) in passing, I think: I should read that. Holding me back has been the pile of books I already have decided to read and, I have to admit, the subject matter. The Berlin Boxing Club focuses on a young Jewish boy growing up in Nazi Germany, who finds strength and inspiration, as long as he is able, from boxing.

Of course, it’s a thrilling setting and an emotionally gripping coming-of-age story addressing multiple issues. But boxing? Meh. Also, in the past couple years I’ve read more WWII-era fiction than I’m accustomed to reading, and it is always difficult to get through the horror of Nazi Germany–the insidious creep of evil and reign of terror. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada is a must-read that epitomizes this. These books are crucially important and yet so painful to read.

All that aside, I could no longer ignore the fact that I really SHOULD READ The Berlin Boxing Club. So, using the library challenge (hosted by Book Dragon's Lair) for added incentive, I borrowed the book and settled in.

Karl Stern is a fourteen-year-old Jewish boy whose nondescript physical appearance and atheist parents leave him identifying more with his non-Jewish classmates than with the few Jewish boys who have been singled out as targets. When not with his family, Karl can "pass" for non-Jewish, as long as he is not seen by anyone who knows him. He imagines that he is getting away with pretending in school, until the day three older boys, members of a National Socialist club, catch up to him after school and beat him up. From then on, things go downhill for Karl, just as they are going downhill for Jews throughout Berlin.

The one bright light for Karl is boxing. Karl’s father, who owns a fast-failing art gallery, is friends with Max Schmeling, a German (and international) boxing champion. In exchange for a painting Max wants, boxing lessons for Karl are arranged. Karl begins a fitness regimen and then training at the Berlin Boxing Club. This focus for his energy, this ray of hopefulness, becomes a lifeline as the world dissolves around Karl and his family in Hitler’s Berlin.

This is the first book I remember reading that deals specifically with an adolescent boy in Nazi Germany. It is a wonderful book about courage in the face of adversity. It is also a wonderful book about family. Karl’s voice and his journey will keep you hooked throughout the story and the last few chapters in particular race along to the powerful conclusion. It's not just a book for YA boys, but something that all YA and adults can appreciate.

This is my 14th book for the historical fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.


  1. I also enjoyed this book very much. I’ve short-listed it for my system’s mock Printz award and I’m looking forward to hearing the group’s thoughts on it. Great summary.

    Irene Jennings of Pocket Knives

  2. I thought this book was amazing-it definitely offered a different perspective on this time and was so powerful. I didn't expect much from the boxing element but it was well-described as was everything else.

  3. Nice article, very useful information.

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