WHERE WERE YOU ROBERT?
Sam North reviews the novel by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
was a perfectly ordinary day when Robert disappeared, and the strangest
thing about his disappearance was that nobody noticed it, not even
Paperback - 4 October, 2001
Robert's story. Robert has a problem with his eyes, not the kind of problem
you or I might have he sees things - with his eyes closed!. If he rubs
then hard people and strange places appear, sometimes they don't even
seem to be e of this planet. At school and at home everyone always accuses
him of daydreaming, but well he is, only it is not really a dream. It
seems a whole lot more real than Maths or English classes in his German
school. It is a lot more interesting than home life or what he sees on
TV, but he tells no one about it, who would believe him and think of all
the problems it would cause. It is his secret.
Robert is a fourteen
year old German kid, bright, but easily bored by normal life. He speaks
pretty good English and excellent German and although no scholar, he
is blessed with a photographic memory, so he always does well at exams.
His is eccentric though and his pockets are always full of things he
has 'picked' up, a ribbon, a miniature Porche car, a calculator, some
coins, a rubber band, that kind of thing. He is always getting into
trouble for it, but he is so absent minded he doesn't ever recall taking
On the day he vanishes
he is watching some documentary on TV where people seem to be in some
terrible strife, running along a snowy street where soldiers are giving
them a hard time. Suddenly Robert is there, on this street, in the snow,
instantly freezing in his thin blue jacket. Worse, he discovers he is
in Russia, 1956, no ID and possession of a cheap free calculator makes
him seem to the authorities to be something close to a superspy. After
all the calculator hasn't even been invented yet and you'd need the
biggest computer in Moscow to even attempt to do what it can do. This
is no dream, he's there, hungry,speaks no Russian, befriended for a
time and hidden by a kindly girl, but soon enough he is betrayed and
charged with spying.
So begins the backwards
journey of Robert the German schoolboy. Luckily for him, at key moments,
when he is about to locked up forever or even killed, he finds a way
out of danger by concentrating very hard on an image or painting, but
he goes wherever the painting or picture is set and each time he goes
backwards in time. It's like Quantum Leap for kids, only there is no
Ziggy to get him back or tell him what year it is, he has to figure
that out for himself and survive. Robert has to grow up fast and wish
he had paid a little more attention to history lessons.
He finds himself in German in the 1930s, on streets where the Fascists
clash with Communists. He lives with a family in Australia for time
and learns to ride horses, which is just as well when he arrives in
the middle ages and the Thirty years war. He has to become a thief,
a warlord, to survive and treachery is everywhere. He witnesses a man
being hanged , men getting shot or run through with a sword. This is
not a gentle tale.
`Where are you Robert?
is not just a wonderful story, it is slyly educational much like Sophie's
World, and in the telling teaches the reader a great deal about European
history. At all times it keeps the reader engaged and enthralled. Robert
must not only struggle, but apply himself. Stranded in Amsterdam, he
becomes apprenticed to a painter and learns everything the hard way.
Each time frame is just a little harder and Robert must raise his game
and grow up fast with every challenge.
For people who think modern kids couldn't survive long after the soft
life they lead now, this book makes a a plausible case for young courage
and determination. Of course it helps if you have managed to pick up
at least two languages.
Where were you Robert?
doesn't reach the dramatic heights that Northern Lights achieves,
but the spirit of adventure is the same and this is one of the best
time-travel journeys in print today.
This would make
a perfect Christmas or birthday gift for any young person 10-15 who
likes adventure and has been resistant to history. It makes a good read
for any adult who wants to move on from Harry Potter or Lyra Silvertongue.
I hope there are more adventures to come.
A Hackwriters recommended
© Sam North
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