Author: Sarah Cohen-Scali
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication Date: 27th January 2016
Rating: 3/5 stars
Meet Max. Indoctrinated in Nazi ideology, he is about to tell you his story. In 1936, he is a baby inside his blonde, blue-eyed mother. His destiny is to become an exceptional being in the ‘Lebensborn’ (Fountain of Life) program, designed to produce the perfect specimens of the Aryan race. But when Max meets Lukas, a Polish boy who rebels against the Nazi system, cracks start to appear in Max’s convictions…
Like The Book Thief and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Max is a compelling historical fable. It is the story of an orphan boy who personifies the evil that people can inflict on children in times of war.
Max was awarded twelve French literary prizes, including the prestigious Prix Sorcières for Young Adult Literature.
This book explores World War II in a very different and intriguing way. I had no previous knowledge of the Lebensborn eugenics program, the Nazi regime’s policy for creating the perfect Aryan race. With the narrative told from the perspective of one of the Lebensborn ‘experiments’, incredibly interesting questions about indoctrination and the power of propaganda are raised.
We are first introduced to our narrator as a foetus. He is determined to be the first child born on the 20th of April, the Führer’s birthday. Already, right from conception, he has been indoctrinated into the hero-worship of Adolf Hitler. Although I understand the importance of establishing the setting, I found it difficult to suspend my belief so far as to connect to the voice of an unborn child. This was a recurring problem for me throughout the book – I continued to find Max’s narrative voice too mature for his supposed age.
Max, who is also called Konrad throughout the novel, epitomises many of the horrors of the Nazi era. Not only is he for all intents and purposes, an ‘experiment’, but he is used in Poland to lure Polish children away from their parents. He attends a school devoted to indoctrinating and Germanising the children of the Poles. Through his eyes we see more than the general history books let us know.
At the school, Max meets Lukas. He immediately idolises the older boy, who is the spitting image of the perfect Aryan. However, Max later discovers that his hero is Jewish, and he must reconcile his belief that the Jews are scum with the seeming perfection of his friend.
Max was a confronting read, raising many questions about the horrors of World War II. How can humans treat each other in this way? How can scientists reconcile these kinds of experiments with any kind of ethical code? While the narrative voice did stimulate thought around the roles of women and children in Nazi Germany, I found Max’s thoughts too unbelievable to truly connect with the story. Nevertheless, I did really enjoy learning more about this aspect of Nazi policy, and would definitely be interested in reading more non-fiction in relation to this Lebensborn experiment.