Review: The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The Berlin Boxing ClubThe Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever read a book that you knew had to be shared, not just with a friend or family member, but with the multitudes. The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow should be read by all teenage boys.

Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Nazi era Berlin, it doesn’t matter that Karl has never set foot in a synagogue or that his family doesn’t practice religion. Demoralized by relentless attacks on a heritage he doesn’t accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth to everyone around him.

So when Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl’s father to give Karl boxing lessons, Karl sees it as the perfect chance to reinvent himself. A skilled cartoonist, Karl has never had an interest in boxing, but as Max becomes the mentor Karl never had, Karl soon finds both his boxing skills and his art flourishing.

But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: protector of his family. Karl longs to ask his new mentor for help, but with Max’s fame growing, he is forced to associate with Hitler and other Nazi elites, leaving Karl to wonder where his hero’s sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?

Future generations should be made aware of the historical events this book imparts. The story itself brings the events to life with clarity. Using universal dilemmas of youth, such as being bullied and finding your first love, Sharenow compounds their effects using the backdrop of Germany adopting Nazism.

The characters are so complex and real; their hardships become ours. Through boxing, under the tutelage of the German national hero, Max Schmeling, fourteen year-old Karl Stern discovers himself. Unexpected encounters with people from his father’s past, sheds new light on the man who raised him, but never shared the horrors he witnessed. Karl becomes a man during one of the darkest times in World History and his dreams, desires and heartaches are laid bare to the reader. Unfairness takes on new meaning under Nazi oppression.

I’ll be looking for other titles by Sharenow and this book will most likely be donated to the local public school library. It’s a worthy read both for the story and the historical significance.

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