I stayed up late last night reading The Island on Bird Street
in one fell swoop. Uri Orlev has written an exciting story based on his own experiences as a young Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto. In writing the book Orlev weaves themes from Robinson Crusoe
into this WWII survival story. After a roundup, Alex has been separated from his father; he waits for him in an abandoned building just inside the border of the Ghetto.
“This house is really not very different from a desert island. And Alex has to wait in it until his father comes. But his father does not come back right away and Alex begins to wonder if he ever will. So he must survive by himself for many months, taking what he needs from other houses the way Robinson Crusoe took what he needed from the wrecks of other ships that were washed up on the beach.”
~ from the Introduction
Before his time of hiding, Alex’s mother and father had been preparing him for the unknown future, honing his survival skills.
~ Whenever you pick a hiding place, always make sure that it has an emergency exit.
~ What counts most is the element of surprise.
~ Look around you and behind you. Danger doesn’t only strike from the front.
At one awkward encounter with a Polish looter, Alex offers to tell a joke to the man. Their laughter diffused the tension. Alex had remembered his father’s lesson.
~ With the Poles you’ve got to sound confident, even a little bit cheeky. And you’ve got to make them laugh.
Alex’s parents differed on the issue of trust.
~ If you relate to people with trust and human kindness, they will always help you. (Mother)
~ Be kind but only trust yourself. (Father)
This story is full of courage, ingenuity, humor, resourcefulness, danger, friendship, and risk. It parted from Robinson Crusoe in one disappointing way: in his distress, Crusoe poured out his heart to God. I thought it seemed unrealistic that a Jewish boy–well, any boy– left alone, in daily peril of losing his life, wouldn’t pray once or twice during the ordeal. God was never once mentioned.