Dee White, Beyond Belief, April 2020, Scholastic Australia, 261 pp., RRP $17.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760662516
Dee White, whose own family had to escape Nazi Germany in 1939, has produced a wonderfully exciting and informative novel based around the history of Muslim efforts to protect Jews during the occupation of Paris in the 1940s. Twelve-year-old Ruben is the hero and narrator of the story, for he is the one who was left by his desperate parents on the doorstep of the famous central mosque in Paris, just beyond the gates of the Jardin des Plantes. If the time comes again to visit Paris, the courtyard and tea house of this mosque are places worth visiting for their beauty, precision of design, and their spiritual effect upon souls needing solace. This novel has at its core a marvelous character in Ruben, much information on the customs and values of Islam, and as its motif it has the image of the Star of David that Jews were obliged to wear stitched on their clothing. For Ruben this piece of cloth becomes a talisman denoting his agreement with God that as long he keeps it on him, God will bring him back to his family. Ruben keeps the star secreted in his sock under his foot for most of the novel.
Ruben must become Abdul once he is adopted by the Muslim community living in the mosque, and he must learn to live the routines of a Muslim child so that he can ‘pass’ as a Muslim child when the German SS visits.
Dee White delivers a plot that does not diminish the losses, the cruelty, the violence, the dangers, the heroism—and the impossible odds Jewish people faced against a ruthless occupation force. Ruben and the small band of escapees find themselves in the tunnels beneath the Central Mosque, and deeper down in the Paris sewers, then the Bercy Quay wine markets and on down the Seine before fleeing into the countryside of France. This is a tour of Paris like no other, an edge-of-seat thriller, and a deeply humane story of the resistance that took place in WWII France. I can recommend this novel to any young reader who likes excitement, and wants to know more about history that matters. Suitable for readers from nine to thirteen, and well beyond.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy