I stayed up too late reading last night -- that's because I could not put down Robert Sharenow's book The Berlin Boxing Club.
The book is set in Nazi Germany and some of its characters were real live people. One of them is Max Schmeling, a German boxing champion who rescued two Jewish boys on Kristallnacht. In his story, Sharenow imagines one such Jewish boy: Karl Stern. Karl is an immensely likeable boy. I was especially touched by his relationship with his little sister. In the book, Karl gets boxing lessons from Schmeling.
I also love a book where the more minor characters come to life too. Without giving away too much, another one of my favourite characters is called the Countess. In this book, as in real life, people are not always what they seem -- and this will include Schmeling, the Countess, Karl's own father, and even Karl himself.
Of course, I also gobbled up everything in the book having to do with boxing. (If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that I've been taking weekly boxing lessons since July. I've got another one this evening!) When Max Schmeling traveled to the U.S., to face Joe Louis, the crowds gave Schmeling a hard time. In The Berlin Boxing Club, Schmeling explains his philosophy for dealing with hecklers: "Name-calling is part of fighting. The weakest punches are thrown with the tongue. You've got to thicken your skin against that kind of attack just the same way you thicken your muscles to throw hard punches." I'd say that's good advice for all of us -- in or out of the boxing ring!!
In his Author's Note, Sharenow gives us an interesting addendum to his story. In real life, Schmeling and Louis became close friends. After the war, Schmeling became a wealthy businessman. Towards the end of his life, Louis had financial trouble. Schmeling helped him and his family out. Schmeling was also a pallbearer at Louis's funeral.