Review of The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs

The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs
by Chana Stiefel; illus. by Susan Gal
Primary    Scholastic    40 pp.
10/22    9781338225891    $18.99

This picture-book biography of Holocaust historian Yaffa Eliach (1935–2016) begins with her happy childhood in the shtetl of Eishyshok in what is now Lithuania, emphasizing the village’s deep connection to its nine-hundred-year history and its enthusiasm for preserving memories through photographs. When the Nazis invade, Yaffa and her family escape, and the approachable text continues to center the importance of memories, including the photos Yaffa saves in her shoes. Years later, when the adult Eliach is a renowned history professor in the U.S., President Jimmy Carter asks her to build a memorial in the new United States Holocaust Museum, and she seeks out photos saved by other survivors to “rebuild Eishyshok, not brick by brick, but photograph by photograph, story by story.” The result is the Tower of Faces, which Eliach calls the Tower of Life. Gal’s illustrations, created with ink, watercolor, and digital collage (including two actual photos), begin with cheerful blues and yellows on plentiful white space, then turn to angry, arresting reds and blacks when the Nazis appear. Photos and other ephemera in varied grayscale and sepia tones are creatively incorporated into broader scenes of memories as those scenes are reconstructed. An affirming tribute to a Jewish past that was lost in the Holocaust as well as to one survivor’s work. Back matter includes a timeline, a bibliography, further reading, and an author’s note.

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees.

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