Once; Then; and Now

Written by Morris Gleitzman
Review by Julie Parker

A trilogy told from a child’s viewpoint about the Holocaust and the Nazi domination. With Felix, a 14-year-old Polish Jewish boy, the reader witnesses terrifying, incomprehensible incidents, but as Felix grows in understanding he realizes the truth behind the events. The reader knows the probable truth from the beginning, but has to wait until Felix has experienced both hope and despair before he achieves comprehension and acceptance.

The first book starts in a children’s orphanage run by Catholic nuns, where Felix waits for his parents to return for him. Gradually the truth dawns that they shall not be coming back for him. He leaves the orphanage and, whilst hiding out from the Nazis, saves a six-year-old girl, Zelda, from a burning house. The relationship between Felix and Zelda is expanded in the second book Then. Zelda’s prize possession is her parents’ photo in a locket, but she realizes that he is wearing a Nazi uniform. She reacts with horror and hatred for her parents. Her journey is to realize that not all Nazis had a choice and that there were good memories, too.

In the third story, Now, Felix is eighty years old living in Australia, and grandfather to Zelda, aged ten. Zelda is being bullied at a new school, staying with Felix whilst her parents are doing charity work in Africa. Various themes are developed: a child’s love and understanding for an older person, new relationships for both the characters and coping with a traumatic bush fire which stirs up old memories for Felix.

A recommended trilogy which deals with a difficult subject in a matter-of-fact and sensitive way.