The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic Study Guide

First published in 1988, The Devil's Arithmetic is a historical fiction novel by Jane Yolen. The story revolves around Hannah Stern, a Jewish girl living in New Rochelle, New York. Tired of hearing her older relatives talk about the past, throughout the novel Hannah is taught about the importance of remembering the history of where one comes from. During a Passover Seder Hannah is transported to Poland in the year 1942. There, she is sent to a Nazi concentration camp after symbolically opening the door for the prophet Elijah.

At the camp, Hannah is believed to be a girl named Chaya Abramowicz. Hannah recognizes her future Aunt and Uncle while at the camp. She endures the horrors of the Holocaust and, upon returning to the present day, recounts her story to her Aunt and Uncle. They tell her they were saved by a girl named Chaya, who was Hannah herself.

The book won the National Jewish Book Award in 1989 and was nominated for the Nebula Award the previous year. A screenplay adaptation of the novel was also nominated for a Nebula Award; the 1999 film starring Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy was directed by Donna Deitch.