Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Candle in Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur

This is the book I wrote about in this post. I picked it up from the library this afternoon and have just finished reading it, several hours later. That’s not as surprising as it sounds; it’s a young adult book, and I’ve read it before, perhaps 10 or 15 times before, if I’m remembering correctly.

This volume, from the Reedsburg, Wisconsin public library, was the only copy in the whole South Central Wisconsin library system, a system of 52 libraries. It’s a 1966 version published by Atheneum, and it has in the back the original library checkout card with due dates back to 1967. It’s probably identical to the version I read (over and over again) from the Haddonfield, New Jersey public library. I certainly recognize the illustrations, if not the orange cover. I don’t imagine anyone has checked it out in a long time.

My friend Anne, writing in the comments, remembers this book also, and how creepy she found it. But I have to say it isn’t nearly as creepy as I remember. It’s more sad, and poignant. Nina, age 12, newly released from a displaced persons camp, sent to live with her aunt in Wales after the death of her parents at the hands of the Nazis, has horrible nightmares that she attributes to the influence of Dido, the evil doll. But reading the story from the vantage point of the 21st century it’s easy to see that Nina is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition common among holocaust survivors and the children of survivors. It’s interesting that Ruth Arthur came up with this in the mid-1960’s.

In a lot of ways this book is very standard-issue mid-century YA fare. People conveniently inherit money exactly when they need it, and they die painlessly of mysterious wasting diseases. They even contact each other through the personal ads! But in other ways it’s a unique look at three generations of women and girls and how they confront their demons and take control of their lives. I’m really glad I rediscovered it.

(Book 1, 2010)


LINDA from Each Little World said...

i'm glad you went back and gave us the grown-up take on the story. It makes it even more affecting to know how you found it as a young person and what you can see today.

I just watched a German film, "Geburtig" that was very arty and looks at the Nazis and concentration camps from the viewpoints of children of survivors and perpetrators. Among other things, they are making a Holocaust film at one of the camps and also using it as the focus of cabaret material. Fascinating to see how that culture is exploring and confronting its legacy. (And sometimes easier to watch someone else do it than to explore our own tortured legacies).

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Anonymous said...

I read this book many times as a kid, and I've recently started buying all my favorite Ruth M. Arthur books. She was low-key gothic without giving me nightmares. Just enough mystery for my seven year old imagination! I liked it just as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

Way back in 1977-78 I checked out every Ruth Arthur book my middle school library had--couldn't get enough of her work. As an adult I think I've managed to collect a complete list of her titles, including a few for younger readers that I think must only have been published in the UK. Does anyone know if Ms. Arthur is still alive? I just discovered that Ruth Chew died last May at the age of 90. She was another favorite author of mine, although she wrote for much younger readers.

Mindy said...

I'm rediscovering Ruth M. Arthur as an adult, and I'm enjoying them just as much as I did when I was a kid! I've collected nearly all of them on Amazon, but I need to double check my list to make sure I haven't forgotten any. So glad there are still a few fans left. :-)

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