Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
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Survive. At any cost.
10 concentration camps.
10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.
It’s something no one could imagine surviving.
But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.
As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner — his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.
He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.
Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will — and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?
Based on an astonishing true story.
It’s always hard to rate a book that discusses the evils an individual was forced to face during the Holocaust, because saying you “love” or even “like” a book that contains such horrors doesn’t make sense, or sit very well with the reviewer. Having read plenty of memoirs and other nonfiction stories about the Holocaust, I consider myself a bit of an expert on the subject, so am going to try to review this one more in terms of its emotional impact on me as a reader than anything else. So with that caveat in mind, here’s my general thoughts.
Keeping in mind that Prisoner B-3087 is geared toward a younger audience, some of the gruesome depictions are a bit toned down, although there is still plenty here to horrify readers. However, I personally didn’t feel that emotional punch a story of this nature usually delivers, and it’s because of this lack of connection that I came away from Prisoner B-3087 mostly underwhelmed. I honestly found the writing to be a bit flat, and never fully connected with Yanek, our main character. Considering that this is a fictional story based on the atrocities the real-life Yanek experienced during WWII, one would expect to be more engaged with the narrative, even if that engagement means you’re cringing away from the pages as you read. However, that never happened here. I was mostly surface reading, and while a part of me was horrified over what Yanek had to endure, my feelings were due more to what I already know about the Holocaust, and the accounts from others that I’ve read and less because of Yanek himself, if that makes sense. Obviously, the Holocaust was terrible, and the cruelty and horrors the Jews and other Nazi prisoners had to face unimaginable, and with that knowledge comes an immediate sympathy for those who survived it, and even those who didn’t. But the expression of those crimes and the strength of character the survivors of the war had wasn’t personified in Yanek or in this fictional story, and that’s what I found most disappointing about the book.
Don’t get me wrong: Prisoner B-3087 is probably a good place for new readers of Holocaust fiction to start. As I said above, it’s slightly toned down, and also gives a nice who’s who and where’s where of the different camps and camp commandants, so reminded me of a primer to the Holocaust more than anything else. But if you’re wanting something that packs an emotional punch, and provides a main character that you can easily connect with, you’ll need to look somewhere else. I would especially recommend The Boy in Striped Pajamas, or The Devil’s Arithmetic, which both provided that emotional connection much more than this book.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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