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The Cure
Sonia Levitin
Harcourt Brace/Silver Whistle, 180 pages

The Cure
Sonia Levitin
Sonia Levitin is the author of many children's and young adult books, including The Return, Escape From Egypt, Journey to America, and Annie's Promise. She received the Sydney Taylor Award for distinguished contribution to Jewish children's literature in 1987 for The Return, as well as the Edgar Allen Poe Award in the Juvenile category for her 1989 mystery novel, Incident at Loring Groves.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by S. Kay Elmore

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Sonia Levitin is not an author to shirk from unpleasant subjects in young adult fiction. Her latest novel, The Cure, is a stunning follow up to her many Jewish-themed YA titles, including Escape from Egypt and The Return. Since many of Ms. Levitin's novels are build around the core of the lives and history of the Jewish people, The Cure is not a great departure from her regular themes. However, while her previous novels have been historical fiction, The Cure takes a tentative step towards the fusion of SF and history.

Sixteen-year-old Gemm and his twin sister Gemma inhabit a future world where peace and tranquillity reign. Raised from birth to follow a strict code of conduct, they have been engineered to abhor emotions, diversity, and any deviation from the set path of order handed down by the Elders. Gemm and Gemma are standing on the brink of their adulthood, preparing to make the Great Choice that will determine their careers and lives until the end of their predetermined 120-year life span. Though he sincerely wants to adhere to the dictates of his culture, however, Gemm is troubled by strange dreams. In his dreams he hears rhythms and sounds, and moves his body in ways that are surely forbidden. As the dreams become more troubling, his stress becomes apparent. He strikes out with violence and deviant behavior and is immediately branded as a dangerous throwback to the earlier, imperfect human. The Elders offer Gemm a choice; he and his twin can either choose a painless and uncomplicated death, or he can attempt to be cured by a painful and traumatic technique.

Of course, Gemm chooses the cure.

He finds himself transported to Strasbourg, Germany in the year 1348 with no memory of his previous existence. He is now Johannes, son of a money-changer, and a Jew. He lives in a segregated community, where corruption and rampant anti-Semitism are a daily fact of life. He is prohibited from becoming a tradesman or a guild member. His family is "taxed" mercilessly to pay corrupt officials' protection money. It's all that he and his father can do to keep their family alive.

Around them, a ravaging pestilence is tearing through the land as the Black Death turns prosperous villages into grisly fields of the dead and dying. Rumors abound that it is the Jews who have caused the plague, inciting riots and senseless violence against them. Through all this suffering, however, Johannes is still a young man. He has a love for music that he shares with his family and even his few gentile friends. He also has great plans for his future, and an abiding love for his neighbor, Margarite. Can he hold on to his faith under such great oppression?

The strength of this novel is Ms. Levitin's great skill in creating real and living characters. You cannot read this book without becoming entranced by them, and pulled along by their story until the very end. Also triumphant is her unflinching depiction of one of the most pervasive horrors of history -- that of blood libel. This is the accusation by "religious group A" that "religious group B" is committing unbelievably despicable acts of ritual murder. This fable has flourished in one form or another for over two millennia, and details are often added to or subtracted from the basic story line in each era and each country where it surfaces. Sometimes the myth disappears for decades and even centuries, only to reappear later in another part of the world. In 14th-century Europe, the myth of the blood libel was pervasive. Directed against the Jews, it was the rationale used by many non-Jews for killing them, eventually causing the deaths of over twenty thousand Jews over the centuries, and the wiping out entire communities. By bringing this ugly subject into the light where we can see it for what it is, Levitin does us a great service, as this myth is still perpetrated against unpopular religious groups, including Jews, to this very day.

Despite the enjoyability of the historical section, the part that tried to cross over into the SF genre bothered me. While the story itself is a very good read, the stilted society of the future was too heavily borrowed from Huxley's Brave New World. I'm a mature reader, so this too-familiar similarity was glaring, but I doubt that the reader for whom this book was intended (10 and up) would notice it.

Copyright © 1999 S. Kay Elmore

S. Kay Elmore is a graphic artist, writer and corporate wage slave. She edits The Orphic Chronicle, an online magazine, and tries to make ends meet by writing and developing corporate newsletters and web sites.


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