I have always found that a disturbing story, written from a child’s perspective, can be so much more moving and hard hitting than if it were written from an adult’s point of view. Books such as Niccolo Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared and The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne are very cleverly written, using simple, child-like language and ideas to tell a tale where the horror is just below the surface, not mentioned, but always felt. Only a talented writer could pull off the subtle style where the evils of the book are unspoken but ever present.
György Dragomán, it turns out is one of those talented writers. His second novel about twelve year old Djata growing up under a communist dictatorship is poignant and alive with childish energy.
Djata’s father has been taken away and by some ‘colleagues’ for what he promised would only be a couple of weeks. The weeks stretch into months and eventually, Djata begins to realise that something much more sinister is going on.
Life is hard for Djata and his mother, with unexpected visits from the State Security and money struggles, but being a child, there are so many other important things to think about. Such as the war that is brewing between Djata’s friends and the ‘Other-Streeters’. He also has to keep out of trouble at school and football practice, because the teachers are not afraid to knock sense into troublemakers. But try as he might, Djata seems to constantly be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Djata’s character is full of boyish energy, kindness and mischievousness – a very realistic portrayal of a child of his age. He is loving towards his mother, rising early to pick her favourite flowers, and always trying to please her in small ways. His innocence and naivety are touching and an uncomfortable reminder to me of my own childhood.
The White King is a book about a normal boy in an extreme and harsh reality filled with brutal teachers, an unforgiving country and confusing emotions. It is distressing, poignant and you have no idea where it will end up.
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