Review: The Silenced ISBN 9781571319371

Review: The Silenced ISBN 9781571319371

Title: The Silenced
Author: James DeVita
ISBN: 9781571319371
Price: $17.95
Publisher: Milkweed Editions

Review by Rosanna Haroutounian

It is hard to imagine a society in which race, religion, ethnicity and other individualities do not impact how we identify ourselves. At a time when identity is at the forefront of civil struggles, court challenges, and political debates, we might sometimes wonder whether life could be simplified without these personal distinctions.

In The Silenced, James DeVita takes us to a place in which each person is no longer an individual – with distinct traits, actions, or even thoughts – but one undifferentiated part of a collective whole.

“We believe that the intermingling and tolerance of different religions, foreign cultures, or personal beliefs of the individual dilute the national character and moral foundation of our state.”

Sixteen-year-old Marena recites the words each morning along with other students at the Youth Training Facility, or YTF. Yet, she finds it increasingly difficult to obey the oppressive directives of the Zero Tolerance Party, especially since she started having flashbacks of the day her activist mother was arrested and disappeared.

To make matters worse, the new education minister, Helmsley Greengritch, has taken over the YTF along with members of the Youth League who are helping to enforce the new curriculum. Marena’s classes are soon replaced with rigorous military exercises aimed at preparing students to defend the state.

Irked by the overbearing totalitarianism at the YTF, and inspired by her mother’s own efforts to overthrow the regime in its early days, Marena decides to take action. With the help of her boyfriend Dex and new classmate, Eric, Marena devises a plan to recruit other resistors to join her underground revolution.

Called the White Rose, the movement relies on printing materials the three friends can collect when they sneak out of their homes after curfew. Between the characters, there are many debates about how far they should go to make an impact, and what they might risk as a result.

Describing the setting, introducing the characters, and building up to the point where Marena puts her plan into action takes up a large part of the book. The real excitement occurs in the last few chapters of the novel, which ends abruptly with many unanswered questions.

Despite the long lead-up to the plot’s climax, many of the characters we meet along the way remain one-dimensional and lack complexity. Marena’s father, Dex, and Eric contribute greatly to the plot’s development yet the information we know about them is minimal compared to the insight we gain into Marena and Greengritch.

The Silenced is inspired and dedicated to Sophie Scholl, a founding member of a group called the White Rose whose members distributed anti-Nazi leaflets in Munich during the Second World War. In 1943, Sophie was arrested and guillotined for taking action against the Nazi regime.

“How could people be arrested merely for writing what they thought on a piece of paper?” writes DeVita at the end of the book.

“How could one of the most terrifying regimes ever to exist in history be so threatened by what a young girl and her friends had written that it would mobilize forces against them? I was struck by the power of the written word and by those brave enough to use it.”

DeVita notes that Scholl and her friends could have stayed quiet and survived, being considered “racially acceptable” by the Nazis. Their leadership showed others that they were not alone in believing that the intolerance and oppression of Nazi Germany was wrong and had to be resisted.

Without the vibrancy of different cultures, freedom of expression, and critical thought, DeVita paints a world without colour where life is monotonous to the point of being depressing.

We are reminded that while our differences can sometimes clash, these challenges also provide many opportunities to learn more, love more, and be more kind to one another.


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