Timeslip Tuesday- The Devil's Arithmetic

This week's Timeslip Tuesday book (it was supposed to be last week's, but things happened) is The Devil's Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen (1988). In modern-day New York, a girl named Hannah is dragging her feet about going to her family's Passover Seder. She's tired of her extended family, and their constant remembering--she knows her grandfather survived a concentration camp, but his rants about the Nazis are nothing more to her than an embarrassment. But when she opens the front door, to let the prophet Elijah in, her life changes. Now she is Chaya, living in a Polish village in 1942, and the Nazis have their concentration camps up and running.

All too soon they arrive in Chaya's village. When the Nazis round the villagers up and cram them into boxcars, the girl from the future knows she is going to have to try to survive some of the worst horrors imaginable. When she returns to the future, she, too, has memories--of death, of friendships blooming in the most unlikely places, of the blue numbers tattooed on her aunt's arm.

Yolen does a fine job of portraying the hellishness of a concentration camp, keeping her description just bearable enough for a young reader to keep reading. And she does a fine job in telling of the importance of remembering the past. I wish, though, that she'd given us a bit more of the characters. They are almost truly real, but to me they were always just a tad overshadowed by the Larger Messages. I had read this one years ago, and did not remember caring for it over much--this may have been why. Still, speaking as one who advocates the teaching of history through fiction, this is a great middle-grade book from which to learn about the Holocost.

Timeslip-wise, it's clear that the time travelling is so that Hannah can Learn, and that weakens the magic of it. So although this book has many good points, it isn't one I'd recommend as a sterling example of Timeslip Genre as such.

This is my 22nd Timeslip review-when I get to 25 I'll make a list!


  1. I have never heard of this book by her before, but it sounds interesting. I think I will have to make sure and check it out at some point!

  2. Thanks for the review. I couldn't help but think of the DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, and how beautifully the characters were drawn. For YA readers, please consider THE ASSAULT by Harry Mulisch.

    Marcia Calhoun Forecki
    Better Than Magic


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