Book Review | The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The Berlin Boxing Club

Robert Sharenow (HarperTeen, 2011, 404 pp.)

In this historical novel set in 1936 Berlin, fourteen-year-old Karl Stern, considered Jewish despite his assimilated upbringing, learns to box with legendary German boxing champ Max Schmeling while struggling with the harsh realities of the Holocaust.

The good stuff

  • Setting and tone – Sharenow creates a credible world. Could feel as if I’m right there in Berlin in the ‘30s.
  • Characters
    • Emotion – Sharenow evoked so much emotion for his main character Karl – Karl with his sister, his parents, with Greta, Nebling, Max, and the Countess
    • Character transformation – Karl evolved through his own training and the challenges of the times
    • Complex character development – For Karl’s mother to soak in the tub for hours on end, for Karl’s father to be a war hero, for Karl’s uncle to call him buckaroo – these are all great developments in a complex cast of characters
    • Unique character attributes – Sharenow imbues Karl with the ability to draw and write comic strips, injecting humor, reflection, and a way to deepen Karl’s relationship with his sister. And by giving Karl the opportunity to learn boxing to protect himself from his Hitler Youth classmates, Sharenow provides the tools for Karl to evolve and nature in a way that’s believable for a boy his age
  • Research – It’s clear Sharenow conducted meticulous research into the lives of German Jews in Berlin during this crucial period

The not-so-good stuff

  • Small inconsistencies – like saying four boys when there were five
  • American terminology instead of translated German terminology
  • Using German to say thank you and yes seemed unuseful

Overall summary: 5.0 out of 5.0

Look for an interview with author Robert Sharenow in a soon-to-be-published The Whole Megillah post!

About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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6 Responses to Book Review | The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

  1. Thanks for the review, Barbara. I’ll put this on my ever growing to-read list. It sounds really good.

  2. This almost seems to be a “crossover” book – also enjoyable for an adult reader. Terrific concise review – it looks like a “must read” as a different and original take on the era. Pnina

  3. Pingback: Association of Jewish Libraries Announces 2012 Sydney Taylor Book Awards | The Whole Megillah

  4. Pingback: Two-in-One Notebook Special: The Berlin Boxing Club Author Robert Sharenow and HarperCollins Editor Kristin Daly Rens | The Whole Megillah

  5. tom boyd says:

    looking foreward to reading the book the Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharnow. I met Max Schmeling and Joe Louis in 1950 in Canada. I was 10 years old and was able to see what great
    friends they were. Joe and some friends had bought an old mansion on a remote area of a huge
    lake about one hour north of Winsor Canada (across river from Detroit). 3 miles from a little French
    Canadian town of Bell River. With a large number of workmen,tradesmen the large ( Gone With the
    Wind looking) house was restored,painted,landscaped and a large parking lot,fenced with guard
    house. My family bought a lot about half a mile north and hired a local frenchman to build a 2 bedroom cottage with a fireplace and a screenend porch. We were one of 10 cottages on that remote shore,just us 10 and the Big White House on that remote,wild area.
    Joe turned the mansion into a gambling den,with slots,roulette,blackjack and craps and music 7
    days a week. my little cousin Barbara, ( also 10 ) and I would motor down to the music, drop anchor and enjoy watching for a couple of hours until my mother rang the brass ships bell, telling
    us to come back for bed. We met Joe one morning along with his employee Mack who ran the
    joint.Barbara and I made a deal to catch fresh fish ,fillet the fish put fish into ice and deliver to Mack
    a couple of large messes each day. To be served that night.A big hit!
    Max Schmeling came to visit his dear friend Joe and stay for the summer. Each morning I would
    meet Max do pushups together then jog down the beach for a mile,then a mile back.
    Some days Max would join me and we would talk about his intresting life,how Hitler had tried to
    pressure Max to join the Natzi party,turn on his jewish friends,fire his American jewish manager.
    Max refused and finally Hitler after several attempts got mad and had Max drafted into the
    paratroops and sent on night drops thinking Max would be killed. But Max though wounded twice
    survived,boxed 5 more times,made enough money to buy a Coke Cola dealership and prospered
    and enjoyed his life with his movie star wife. and now traveled to visit his pal Joe and the two
    jewish brothers Max had helped get out of Germany who now lived in las vegas and san franciso

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