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Think on ink — ‘Finding Rebecca’

| Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ThinkonInk_WEBEMILY DANAHER | The Observer
Fiction about World War II and specifically the Holocaust is incredibly popular. I think that this reflects our need, even today, to deal with the atrocities committed during this time period and somehow rectify how they could happen in a world that we need to be primarily good. These books always deal with a loss of innocence, and trying to build and rebuild in a world that is entirely full of horrors.

Eoin Dempsey’s “Finding Rebecca” is a recent addition to this canon. Dempsey tells the story of a 6-year-old German boy, Christopher, who meets a Jewish girl when he moves to the Channel Islands of Jersey. Rebecca becomes his best friend, and he helps her through her troubled life at home and loves her before and after she makes the move to leave her parents when she was just 15 years old.

The book tells the story of the two times Christopher loses Rebecca: once when she runs away to escape her abusive, alcoholic father and once when the Nazis finally relocate her after their occupation of Jersey.

Most of the action comes after Christopher loses Rebecca the second time, as the title suggests. He joins the SS and begins work at Auschwitz in an attempt to find and save her from the Nazi death camps. In the meantime, he works to limit the damage done by other officers to the people captured there.

Some of Dempsey’s strongest writing showcases the moments when Christopher fails to save the people he sees as his charges. At times, Christopher seems to morph into a figure as ruthless as those he would oppose, and it is easy to condemn him for the sacrifices he makes to save his own position at the cost of others’ lives. Still, by the end of the story, it is obvious that he has tried his best, and it is perhaps better that he maintained his job and saved those he could rather than sacrificing himself for one other person.

It’s a question that lies at the heart of the novel, and Dempsey never truly reveals how he feels about it. Rebecca seems to stand for the ideal of never allowing another innocent to get hurt while Christopher staunchly portrays a more utilitarian view. In the end, Dempsey does not reconcile these two views — as both survive and find a way to live in harmony with one another.

I think my biggest problem with “Finding Rebecca” is perhaps the ending. Dempsey does a beautiful job, up until the last couple of chapters, of creating this sort of tragic happy ending. Yes, Christopher has survived his time as an SS officer. Yes, the camps have finally closed. Yes, Christopher managed to save hundreds of women and children from certain death.

But, because Rebecca is dead before he even really begins his journey as the “Angel of Auschwitz,” he can never fully reach that stage of happiness and innocence he has before the Nazi camps. Her surprise return ruins this and makes the ending far too neat and tidy for a Holocaust story, especially one that seems to be marketed towards adults and not part of the young adult fiction genre whose biggest fault often seems to be their penchant for incredibly tidy endings.

Dempsey does try to rectify this issue by discussing the nightmares Christopher still has and by creating a life for Rebecca in Israel that she builds while hating him for his actions. But this doesn’t seem to be enough, to me. As far as the storyline goes, it is perhaps stronger if she dies in the camps, a strong reminder of all that was lost in the Holocaust.

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About Caelin Miltko

I am a senior English and Irish language major, with a minor in Journalism. I spent the last year abroad in Dublin, Ireland and am currently a Walsh RA living in Pangborn.

Contact Caelin