This little book is an astoundingly accomplished piece of writing. Sheer magic. The writing is right up there with Paul Gallico's Snow Goose in its erudite simplicity and intensity of feeling. It should be in every school, and adults should also familiarise themselves with it.
It tells a fictionalised version of the story of Settela the nine-year old girl in the famous photograph peering between the closing doors of the death-train on the way to the gas chambers. Unlike those of Anne Frank, Senetta's own words are unavailable to us but the meticulous research of the Dutch journalist Aad Wagenaar revealed her to be not Jewish but Sinti. Janna Eliot, herself Sinti, has reconstructed the months before the death trip in language which is no less than brilliant - a masterful dance on the line between poetry and prose.
There is nothing maudlin or prurient about the way the story is told. It does not evoke bitterness or revenge. Instead, like the Sinti culture it represents so faithfully, it portrays a sadness too deep for emotional subjectivism and yet one that rises above exterminism. The way Senetta's own thoughts and imaginings are expressed - her dreams of leading her people to freedom, her fears and her sources of strength in the most extreme of situations - foreshadows the grown woman she will never be. Like her mother she covers her terror with reassurance for those with less strength than herself, evoking an untroubled past to construct an imaginary ending where a family, torn from itself and its members by unprecedented evil, will sit again around the fire, their souls singing in the sweet fragrances of herb and rain and woodsmoke to the accompaniment of their heirloom instruments.
It is no less than a miracle that a story of such indescribable tragedy could leave a feeling not just of love and admiration for its extraordinary little heroine, but somehow of beauty in the comradeship between Gypsies and Jews, and even of hope for a culture all-but erased.
This is a writer to watch.