Summary (from Goodreads):
The Puppet Boy of Warsaw is the story of Mika, a Jewish boy who inherits a coat from his grandfather and discovers a puppet in one of its many secret pockets. He becomes a puppeteer in the Warsaw ghetto, but when his talent is discovered, Mika is forced to entertain the occupying German troops instead of his countrymen.
It is also the story of Max, a German soldier stationed in Warsaw, whose experiences in Poland and later in Siberia's Gulag show a different side to the Second World War. As one of Mika's puppets is passed to the soldier, a war-torn legacy is handed from one generation to another.
Anyone who has read this blog for any period of time will know that I love WWII reads. So, when I heard of The Puppet Boy of Warsaw I immediately added it to my wishlist. A novel about the Warsaw ghetto and a Gulag is a winning combination in my book, since Gulags aren't discussed as much as the Holocaust in literature. A novel which tells the story from the point of view of both factions is a rare gem, and it could have been the perfect way to explore the feelings of Germans regarding the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. It started out great, with the childhood of Mika, the main character, but the author kept adding characters on top of characters, until it was obvious that the intended scope was too big for the meagre plot. From Mika's grandfather to Mika's grandson, and the muddled family history of a German soldier who was in the ghetto, The Puppet Boy of Warsaw spans six generations, four countries and roughly a century, in just 300 pages. While it could have worked in theory, it felt unfocused and all over the place.
On the other hand, the novel is extremely well-reserached. I learned a lot about the Warsaw -Ghetto Uprising of 1943, and the author weaved Mika into the revolution seamlessly. However, that was the only high point of the whole novel for me. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw was excessively simplistic, and the author took on a didactic and moralising tone that felt awfully patronising. Readers don't want to be told that war is bad, they need to be shown so. This is a recurring theme in the novel - we are always told how wonderful a puppeteer Mika is, but we are never shown any of his performances. The sequence would go something like this: someone is sad and needs some cheering, Mika does his thing, everyone who watches is awed and feels fantastic all of a sudden. What exactly Mika said or did, nobody knows. After countless repetitions of this nonsense, I couldn't help but feel that the puppeteering, which could have been very innovative, was just a boring gimmick.
The story had promise, but it fell short. Maybe in the hands of a more skilled author it could have been a good novel. And yet it will have a broad public, since it is one of those books that make you feel awful if you don't cry with its characters. I feel bad, because I really wanted to like this, but that was the last nail in the coffin. WWII was devastating enough as it was without the need to be emotionally manipulative with your readers.
Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!