A Great Escape
176pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
Berlin, August 13, 1961, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US and its allies is at its peak and Peter is playing with his mates Max and Hubert, ignoring his mother’s requests to come inside because they are leaving to visit the western side of the city, controlled by the Western Allies and entirely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled East Berlin and East Germany. It doesn’t seem like a big deal because Peter can always stay with his grandparents as he frequently does.
But this time things change for overnight the East German authorities start constructing the wall which divided the city for 28 years and Peter finds himself separated from his parents and little sister Margrit as they are unable to return to the East and he can not join them. Guarded by tanks and soldiers with ferocious dogs and who shoot to kill, it seems that Peter will never see his family again. However, he is determined to escape and despite seeing the fate of most of those who do try, including the body of his best friend’s older brother left caught in the barbed wire as a warning, his resolve to rejoin his parents doesn’t waver. While he meets new friends Otto and Elke he is scorned by others, including being taunted and beaten by his old friend MAx who considers him to be a traitor for wanting to be reunited with his family.
This is knife-edge reading about a period in time that was the backdrop to the life of a generation and inspired by the author’s visit to Berlin and asking himself, “If the Wall were to be implemented today, and I were separated from my family, what would I do?” He has brought the period and the dilemma of so many to life through Peter and his friends, and created another must-read to go with The Boy and the Spy and Fearless Frederic. As well as shining a spotlight on a recent period in history that is still fresh in the minds of many of our students’ grandparents who will have seen it, perhaps even been affected by it, it also sets up a number of ethical questions that could lead to some robust discussions.
Just as with its predecessors, this is a meaty book that will appeal to those who like some real depth to their reading and who are then compelled to find out more about the events and circumstances. Perfect for independent readers who are a little older and have a sense of history and are interested in the lives of other children in other places in other times. As Arena asked himself, what would they do if they found themselves in another’s shoes?