The challenge when writing a novel inspired by the experiences of one’s own family – in this case, the experience of the author’s father as a Jewish child living in France during World War II – is to find a balance between fact and fiction that delivers an appealing story. Leaning too much on the facts, or too much on the imagination, creates a tale either too stiff or too unrealistic. But Susan Lynn Meyer performs this feat in masterful fashion. In Black Radishes, she has found the perfect balance.
Meyer’s young character comes alive for the reader when, in the spring of 1940, Nazi Germany invades France and takes over Paris. Through Gustave’s eyes we witness – and actually feel – the terror of those dark days, as his family attempts to flee to safer ground. Tragically, many Jews in France will not survive. This is a poignant and, for some, difficult story to read, because it is so well written and therefore so believable. The day-to-day life of a child placed in such an authentic and terrifying setting pulls at the heartstrings. Not a book for every young reader, but certainly one that will move both young and old to tears.