First published on 2 Mar 2012. Updated on 2 Mar 2012.
To summarise Noah’s Child as the tale of an impressionable young boy and a priest with a secret – which it is – sounds horribly trite. Similarly, grouping it with other memoiresque accounts of children in Nazi-occupied Europe might suggest it’s formulaic. Both descriptions would be unfair to this magnificent novel.
The book tells the story of Joseph, a plucky Jewish boy separated from his family at an orphanage in Belgium. Joseph grapples with his religious beliefs as he develops a friendship with the enigmatic Father Pons, all the while hiding from the Gestapo who prowl the local village.
If the backdrop is grim, the story candour and humour you’d expect from a narrator aged just seven. As the relationship between Joseph and Father Pons develops, there unfolds not only a love story but also a fable about preserving historical memory. Delivered in deceptively simple language, the story seems almost too easy to digest – children would happily read this novel – but what remains unspoken, extraordinarily, is what is made clearest in this moving text, which reflects on religious themes and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
One million copies of Noah’s Child were sold worldwide prior to this superb English translation; Schmitt’s powerful yet understated novel makes for a refreshing take of one of the darkest moments in human history.