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Reviewed by Phumeza Ndzambo for Readers' Favorite
In Escape Route, Elan Barnehama borrows the voice of a young teenage boy born to Jewish immigrants and living in New York City in the late 1960s. Zach is burdened by the history of his heritage as he navigates life in this era. The Vietnam war is claiming lives every day, with no end in sight, and Zach is concerned about what the future may hold for him and his family. At age 13, he is too young to be drafted for war, but who is to say it will not still be going on when he comes of age? Having been raised on stories of the Holocaust, Zach can’t shake off the need to be prepared for if/when the worst happens. “And that is how I became the progeny of refugees with thick accents who passed on their heritage of gloom of war and the promise of peace. They exhibited the kind of self-assurance that comes from having survived and the mistrust of having had to.”
Elan Barnehama has a talent for making the mundane rhythm of everyday life sound interesting and significant. And that’s just it, Escape Route has no big moments. It’s a collection of little moments that mimic ordinary living and make the story so relatable.
The book made me think about the amount of trauma we inherit from those who came before us. It feels like it is not only from stories passed down but something fundamental in our genes. One child can inherit the trauma gene as easily as another may inherit looks from their parents. I couldn’t help but feel sad for the lead character. He is so young, with his whole life ahead of him, but is already so skeptical and defeated as if he has lived many lives before this one. The overall theme reminded me of this quote attributed to Maya Angelou, “There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing."