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Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Prisoner and the Writer, written by Heather Camlot and illustrated by Sophie Casson. Groundwood, 2022. $14.99 ages 12 and up

"At the lowest point in his life,
Alfred has nothing left to lose. 
Guards follow him wherever he goes. 
They watch him day and night, even 
when he's chained to his bed, unable 
to move.

                   Unable to sleep."

It has been more than 125 years since Emile Zola wrote 'J'Accuse', an open letter to the president of the French Republic in support of Captain Alfred Dreyfus who had been wrongly accused of treason. Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil's Island, in exile and entirely alone. Zola, well-regarded and very popular, chose to expose the injustice of the Dreyfus' trial to all who would listen. 

The attention that his letter brought to the plight of Captain Dreyfus was met with worldwide condemnation. To be tried and convicted of treason because of his Jewish heritage was abominable. Anti-Semitism was not to be tolerated. While Dreyfus languished in prison with little hope for his future, Zola continued to put pressure to have him released. Eventually, Dreyfus was pardoned and returned home to his family. 

It did not end there, as we well know. Zola faced much criticism and hatred for speaking the truth. Jewish people today continue to be victimized by hatred and disinformation, as do many others. It is critical that people stand up to injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.  

Written for middle-grade readers, the novel is focused on both men with powerful words and images that bring this famous story to new life and reminds readers that they do have a voice, and can stand up to those who spread hatred and lies. It takes courage; ultimately, it is worth it. 

Valuable and compelling. 

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