Meet Max. Indoctrinated in Nazi ideology, he is about to tell you his story. In 1936, he is a baby inside his blonde, blue-eyed mother. His destiny is to become an exceptional being in the ‘Lebensborn’ (Fountain of Life) program, designed to produce perfect specimens of the Aryan race. But when Max meets Lukas, a Polish boy who rebels against the Nazi system, cracks start to appear in Max’s convictions…
Like The Book Thief and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Max is a compelling historical fable. It is the story of an orphan boy who personifies the evil that people can inflict on children in times of war.
Max was awarded twelve French literary prizes, including the prestigious Prix Sorcières for Young Adult Literature.
I received a review copy of Max from Text Publishing. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Max is a historical fiction novel with a twist. This novel by Sarah Cohen-Scali (translated by Penny Hueston of Text Publishing) chronicles Max’s life from a fetus to 10 years of age. I should point out here that while we follow the story of a child in this book, Max is marketed as young adult (14+). It contains some very mature content including violence, rape and other sexual themes.
Everything about Max, including his conception and upbringing was carefully controlled by the ‘Lebensborn’ program and his purpose in life was to become an exceptional Hitler youth. Max has known this since he was an unborn child in his mother’s belly and he’s devoted his whole life to becoming the perfect little soldier under strict and regimented instruction. However, when he meets Lukas, a Polish boy who was snatched from his home to become Germanised, he starts to question some of the ideals that have been instilled into him from birth.
I should have been born yesterday, but that’s not what I wanted. The date didn’t suit me. So I’ve stayed put.
This entire book is written from the first person perspective of Max and I loved his character and voice from the very first page. His personality and sass comes through straight away and you just want to get to know him better. And you get a lot of Max in this book… including his perspective as a foetus still in his mother’s belly. You get all of his pride at being the first baby and star born into the Lebensborn program, his superiority at sharing the Führer’s birthday, his coldness and cruelty when it came to the weak and also his tender moments as an innocent child. Despite his being a child of evil, it is so easy to understand him and fall in love with him. He’s definitely a product of his upbringing and I couldn’t fault him for thinking and behaving the way he did. I loved his childish arrogance and the changes in his way of thinking as he grew up. The writing in this book was so insightful and Max’s voice seemed so realistic that I never found it unbelievable that a foetus and child knew so much about the world and the mature things he was discussing (even though it totally is).
This novel is confronting from the very first couple of pages. The author definitely doesn’t go easy on her audience or sugar coat anything. We get to see all of the atrocities that were committed against children and Jews during WWII and the Holocaust. The book was incredibly well-researched and if you’ve ever wanted to know more about what occurred in Germany during WWII, this book provides a lot of great information, weaved into a captivating story. It was confronting and extremely heartbreaking to see what had occurred and it was very interesting to read about it from a rarely seen perspective. My only other experience of reading from the perspective of a Hitler youth was Werner from All the Light We Cannot See, but to read about it from the point of view of a young innocent mind who didn’t know any differently, really affected me deeply. I enjoyed the honesty and insight that the author brought to the story and I really appreciated that she didn’t hold back and spare our feelings by keeping characters alive when it was unrealistic to do so.
This was one of the most unique and impactful books that I’ve read for a long time. Even though Max is a child of evil, it’s tough not to love him and care for him. The relationships he forges with those around him will tug at your heart strings and I challenge you all to not fall in love with Max and his story. Because it’s impossible.