This German author has done it again. From his clever teaching of math in "The Number Devil" to a backward sweep of European history in this second novel, Enzenburger exposes young teen readers to unstructured learning through fiction.
An intrepid 14-year-old cavorts through four centuries, in seven leaps backward through time. Following two years of high adventure, he arrives home at the very moment he left ... albeit a vastly more knowledgeable young man.
After being sucked by his TV screen into the severity of life in Siberia and appalled by the Soviet system of the 1950s, Robert is catapulted into 1940s Australia. There he hobnobs with an elite family of European settlers before digging for opals with an aborigine.
In another leap, Robert suddenly finds himself brandishing a sword and forced into leading a band of brutal brigands in Europe during the Thirty Years' War. In other eras, Robert forms tender relationships with peasants and princesses.
Each new immersion reveals the evolution of disparate societies. Robert learns, sometimes painfully, to adapt to the habits and mores of each exposure. Different currency, diets, ways of eating, and worshipping are a constant challenge to him, as he gains a deepened appreciation of European history.
He muses to himself, "Whatever the year, human beings were capable of anything, the worst of evils, and the greatest of wonders."
While apprenticed to a painter in Amsterdam in the 1600s, Robert finds a way to paint himself home to his own time, where his mother is aghast at his paint-covered clothes. So it was not a dream!
Reluctant readers may balk at the lengthy descriptions of each time period. But young history buffs should relish the vivid portraits of postcards come to life, and identify easily with this courageous and inquisitive time explorer.
A worthy exposure to painless learning.
Marjorie D. Hamlin is a freelance writer in St. Louis.
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