Always by Morris Gleitzman
Always is the seventh and final book in Morris Gleitzman’s stories about Felix Salinger who survived WW2 under the Nazis in Poland. At the age of 87 he is living a quiet life as a respected, retired surgeon in Australia. However, his life is overturned when 10-year-old Wassim turns up on his doorstep all the way from Eastern Europe. Wassim is being raised by his Uncle Otto after the disappearance of his parents. Their lives are being threatened by the Iron Weasels, a fascist bunch of thugs. Wassim is intent on getting help from Felix based on a letter from his Grandpa who told him to seek Felix out if he was ever in trouble. Felix is reenergised by Wassim. They are awfully alike at the same age, brave and hopeful. After they receive what seems to be a peace offering from an old Nazi enemy of Felix’s, they leave Australia to resolve past wrongs. What follows is a race against the Weasels, and the dark forces which back them, to solve a mystery stemming back to the Holocaust.
There are some quite sinister events in Always, such as Felix’s dog being deliberately killed as a menacing threat. Racism is a major theme. I believe Gleitzman saw parallels in the disgraceful real-life treatment of indigenous AFL players in recent years and the scenes he created when Wassim and the football star, Daoude Ndione, are harassed by Weasel sympathisers with monkey noises and taunting “monkey boy”. Other important ethical issues involve using violence for survival and revenge. The improbability of the story’s chains of events can be a bit much. I hope I have Felix’s courage and physical abilities when I am 87! However, I also acknowledge the excitement of the action and the effortless readability of the story. I appreciate Gleitzman’s intent and passion for anti-fascist themes and dedication to his readers. He is able to juxtapose the awfulness of the events with hope, oh so necessary for today’s young.
Themes: Racism, Harassment, Bravery, Love.