Monday, May 21, 2012

The Lily Pond by Annika Thor

The Lily Pond is the second of four books by Annika Thor that tells the story of the Steiner sisters. However, this short novel focuses mainly on thirteen year old Stephanie as she moves to the mainland to attend school in Goteborg, Sweden. It is an exciting time for Stephanie because she will be boarding with Dr. Soderberg's family. This means living in the same house as Sven, their eighteen year old son, whom Stephie likes very much.

Living in Goteborg brings back memories of Vienna, with its trams and cobblestone streets, its shops and tall buildings. If Stephanie was expecting to be treated like one of the family that notion disappears as she soon realizes that she is nothing more than a boarder at the Soderberg's home. Stephanie is responsible for making her own breakfast and lunch and she is expected to have her dinner in the kitchen with their maid, Elna. She is allowed dinner once a week in the dining room with the family.

But Sven doesn't treat her like a boarder - in fact he's more like a good friend. Soon after she arrives as the Soderberg's home, Sven takes Stephanie to a small lily pond, where they sit and talk. This beautiful pond, with its dark waters and graceful swan pair, becomes a place of solitude and retreat for Stephanie when she feels overwhelmed or confused. Unfortunately, Stephanie confuses Sven's friendship for something more. Her feelings threaten to ruin everything she has worked towards.

At school, Stephanie flourishes academically but has trouble making friends. Her friends, Sylvia and Ingrid who have also come from the island, are assigned different classes. Eventually Stephanie finds a good friend in May Karlsson who lives over in the poorer Mayhill district. May's large family are welcoming towards Stephanie.

Stephanie also has a mentor in her math and biology teacher, Hedvig Bjork, who helps Stephanie navigate a crisis later on. As she was warned by Sven, Stephanie does meet some teachers who approve of the new world order that Germany is working to establish in Europe.

In addition to all this, Stephanie must deal with the uncertainty of her parents situation as Jews in occupied Austria. As conditions deteriorate more and more for the Jews in Austria, her parents find themselves increasingly restricted in where they can work and shop. Desperate to leave Austria for the United States, they attempt to obtain exit visas. Just when things seem to be working to their advantage, Stephanie's mother becomes ill with pneumonia and cannot travel. Their position in Vienna becomes increasingly precarious. Stephanie deeply misses the comforting presence of her mother and father.

The Lily Pond is a wonderful read for young teens. Annika Thor realistically captures the angst that Stephanie experiences as a young teen having her first crush. Thor effectively portrays an young girl struggling with self-doubt, personal loss, and the stirrings of a first love.

Annika Thor also tells an important broader story in The Lily Pond - that of the plight of Jewish refugee children assimilating into a new culture without the benefit of their parents and often other Jewish children and families. No doubt these children found it difficult when their beliefs clashed with those of their foster families. During this era, there was little respect or tolerance towards the Jewish children's beliefs and often they were expected to adopt Christian beliefs. In some cases this was required for survival, as when children were given shelter in Nazi occupied areas of Europe. There can be no doubt that for many small children, as demonstrated in The Lily Pond with Stephanie's younger sister, Nellie, this caused doubt, confusion and a great deal of upset.

It is my sincere wish that Delacourt Press will consider publishing the remaining two novels in English for those of us who have started this series and wish to learn what happens to Stephanie.

Ms Annika Thor's website can be found here.

Book Details:
The Lily Pond by Annika Thor
Delacorte Press    2011

No comments: