by Anne Cimon
Myra Paperny's fourth novel,The Greenies, is a valuable addition to the literature that concerns the Holocaust. Paperny is the award-winning author of The Wooden People, and most recently, Nightmare Mountain.
The Greenies, titled after the name used for those who were "green" to Canada, or foreigners, is a fictional narrative based on Paperny's research and interviews with survivors of the Holocaust who were sent to foster homes across Canada through the Canadian Jewish War Orphans Project. The author sets the story of her two main characters, Danny, who lived through the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and Lilli, a survivor of Auschwitz, in Vancouver in 1948, soon after the end of the war.
Canada proved to be one of the few countries to open its doors to over a thousand of these homeless teenaged children, who were eager to emigrate and escape Europe, where they had suffered tragic losses under the Nazi regime.
The story of The Greenies is ably developed in a traditional style, with a lot of dialogue. It begins as Danny and Lilli travel with a group of other orphans across the Atlantic, to Montreal, and then Vancouver, where they settle in their respective foster homes.
From the beginning, the question in the reader's mind, and the main characters' hearts, is how will they adapt to any kind of normal life in Canada after seeing family members being murdered, and being subjected to starvation and slave labour? And what will their foster families be like?
Paperny skillfully shows how Danny and Lilli experience the normal adolescent conflicts with authority, their foster parents and teachers. Their emotional states are intensified by their concentration camp experiences, which makes them more rebellious but also more vulnerable. Lilli, the most memorable Greenie, has a thick accent and is ridiculed in school. She eventually retaliates against an insensitive teacher. Marilyn, who is what Lilli aspires to be, a "real Canadian" girl, befriends Lilli and shields her from the bullies at school.
Lilli discovers that her frankness about her traumatic experiences is not welcomed by her foster mother, Mrs. Chandler, who believes it is best to sweep her troubled past under the carpet. But this makes Lilli unhappy, though her material needs are well met.
Danny, the other main character, gladly accepts work at the Empire Furniture store, where he is trained for bookkeeping by a sympathetic Mr. Block. Danny also finds it hard to fit in; he discovers that dating Canadian girls isn't easy as they judge him too serious, not easy-going enough.
Paperny brings post-war Vancouver to life through strong details of dress and mores. The climax of The Greenies, revolves around the disappearance of Max, one of the most psychologically fragile orphans. Paperny doesn't sensationalize the story, and teens and adults will find The Greenies easy to read, and instructive about what Canada did for child survivors of the Holocaust. As for Danny and Lilli, their story has a happy ending.