Author: Sarah Cohen-Scali
Publisher: Walker Books
UK Release Date: 7th July 2016
Genres: Historical, Young Adult, War
Baby Max is the perfect prototype of the Nazi eugenics programme; he is the ideal size, he has the correct colour hair and flawless blue eyes.
Raised in an ideology driven by hatred and ruled by fear, Max is taught to endure pain and be brave at all costs.
But as he is drawn further into the horror of war, Max must fight to untangle the truth from the lie.
I have always found books that deal with how children view the horrors of Nazi Germany interesting. I think that the exploration of such a dark time for humanity through the lens of childhood often makes for an eye-opening and thought-provoking read – and Max was no exception to this.
It was fascinating to observe the way the Nazi regime had impressed itself into Max’s mindset without him even realising. The book started before Max was born, when he was in his mother’s womb, and from the beginning he used militaristic language and had an intense awareness of the world around (something which he could not necessarily express to those around him due to his youth, but he thought it all the same). He had assimilated many of the beliefs and teachings around him into his thought process until it was difficult to tell who Max really was as a child, and how much of his personality was comprised of propaganda. It was also interesting and slightly ironic that for a child who considered himself so aware and intelligent, Max was blind to the horrors around him for a large part of the book, some of which he even contributed to.
This was where Lukas, for me, really transformed the novel. From the minute he arrived within the pages, it was clear that he was just like Max – both physically and emotionally, as they had similar facial features and shared the same strength of character. However, there was one crucial difference which set them completely apart – their differing stances on the Nazi regime – and for me Lukas seemed to be the person Max would have been had he not been born into the Nazi programme. He also humanised Max, as before this point the only emotional connection Max had formed was with Bibiana, and this was cut off early on in its formation. His feelings of brotherhood towards Lukas definitely endeared Max to me, something that was a little tricky given his often harsh attitude and the atrocities he unknowing became involved in.
The novel constantly wove together the story of Max and his journey to the truth with real life occurrences which happened during the Second World War. The Lebensborn programme and the Germanization of children from Eastern Europe were both real events, something mentioned in a note at the end of the book, which I must admit did shock me a little, especially when I had just finished reading the emotional ending, and discovered how much of it was based in fact.
Overall, I honestly could not recommend this book enough. It is such a powerful and eye-opening novel, and it is utterly unforgettable. I will remember Max for a long time.