The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
by E. L. Konigsburg
Early YA Fiction. 244 pp.
Atheneum. 2007.


Amedeo Kaplan seems just like any other new kid who has moved into the town of St. Malo, Florida, a navy town where new faces are the norm. But Amedeo has a secret, a dream: More than anything in the world, he wants to discover something—a place, a process, even a fossil—some treasure that no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would also like to discover a true friend to share these things with.

William Wilcox seems like an unlikely candidate for friendship: an aloof boy who is all edges and who owns silence the way other people own words. When Amedeo and William find themselves together on a house sale for Amedeo's eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Zender, Amedeo has an inkling that both his wishes may come true. For Mrs. Zender's mansion is crammed with memorabilia of her long life, and there is a story to go with every piece. Soon the boys find themselves caught up in one particular story—a story that links a sketch, a young boy's life, an old man's reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. It's a story that will take them to the edge of what they know about heroism and the mystery of the human heart.
I find that Konigsburg is an author who I can read again and again and again. Her stories are good. Her style is engaging. She's just good to read. What I like about this book are the main characters, Amedeo and William. They're an unlikely pair, but you see how well they work together. What I also like about this book is the deftness with which Konigsburg flows in and out of and blends multiple story lines. It really is rather genius. But I guess I'm not surprised at her skill.

And then there's her use of and approach to theme. It's a more subtle approach to the atrocities of Nazi Germany than you find in other books such as Number the Stars or Briar Rose or The Devil's Arithmetic (all of which I thought were wonderfully written). The Nazi story is underneath the primary story, but you're given the pieces of it throughout. And then, and I guess this is one of the reasons I liked it as I did, it doesn't focus solely on the Jewish element. Even more, what I liked is how Konigsburg took this element to translate it to the larger picture of identity and labels and love. I know I shouldn't spoil this marvelous moment in the book, but this was the most moving passage I've come across in a long while:
To me at fifteen years, that Pieter wore the Rosa Winkel was for me both a surprise and not a surprise.

Pieter was a homosexual, but he was much more than that. He was my brother, my parent, my guardian, my friend. . . .

It was the Nazis who made a label for Pieter. The Nazis made a label for everyone. Besides the Yellow Stars, they had triangles of brown for Gypsies and purple for Jehovah's Witnesses. The Nazis believed that if they know how you were born as a Jew or a Gypsy or a homosexual, they know everything about you and can make a label for it. But what did these labels tell you about the person who wore them? The Nazis did not have labels for kind and generous and brave and smart and a good friend and a good son and a good, good, good brother.

I had known my brother, Pieter, all of my life—all fifteen years of my life—and yet I did not know him. I knew only the parts that I could see through my eyes and feel in my heart. That was a lot, but the rest was like listening in the back-back room, where from behind the wall, you must guess at what you are seeing from what you are hearing, and the sounds, they are muffled.

The Nazis could never make a label for Pieter van der Waal. The Nazis knew about as much about Pieter van der Waal as the amount of him that the Rosa Winkel covered: a small flat Pink Triangle.
Anyway, this is a good book. A wonderful book. I recommend it.

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