Robert Sharenow’s Berlin Boxing Club details the life of a young boy, Karl Stern, as he grows up a non practicing Jew in Nazi occupied Berlin. The book is told through the eyes of this boy as he becomes a man and learns to defend his family. After suffering relentless harassment for being an “evil, mongrel Jew,” Karl begins to take boxing lessons from the country’s boxing champ, Max Schmeling. These lessons give him confidence and determination that takes him throughout the book, during this coming of age novel, driven by themes of injustice, self empowerment, a strong sense of self, and the importance of family.
Though this may seem like yet another World War Two novel, what makes this book particularly interesting is the lens through which the story is told. There are many stories of the torture that Jews endured in this time period, but what about the Jews who do not identify with Judaism? The Stern family is only Jewish by blood, and have never even stepped foot in a synagogue (not to mention that Karl even agrees with Hitler about the assumed evilness of Jews in the beginning of the novel), yet their lives are destroyed because of the propaganda that is put out into their community about the Jewish culture. This book honestly shows what it was like for someone in Karl’s position to grow up in a disadvantaged environment controlled by societal standards.
Though this book has some topics that can be looked into and analyzed maturely, the way this book is written is almost childish, in that on the surface it is very simplistic. Though this seems like it could be Sharenow’s attempt to write to a younger audience, it may also be his intention to write as a young teenager would write as if in a journal. Whatever his intentions may be, this book seems to be below the level of a high school Honors English class. Unless heavily analyzed, it is hard to pull any concrete depth out of the story that is being told, because the deepest elements of the story are presented to the reader from the surface of the book.
This is a wonderful book for those who have yet to read much about World War Two and the Holocaust, or those who have little experience with the struggle of Jews or other “mongrel races” in Germany at that time. For those who have read more about this subject and setting, I would say that this book is not advanced enough and does not present a great need for insight or analysis. It is a nice “intro to the holocaust” type of a book. Because of the lack of maturity and depth, I gave the book 7/10.