I Am David Summary

Anne Holm

I Am David

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I Am David Summary

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I Am David by Anne Holm is a children’s historical fiction novel written in 1963. It was originally written in Danish but has since been translated into many languages, including English, Norwegian, Swedish, Finish, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, and Konkani. It was originally published in the United States under the name North to Freedom, but eventually was retranslated into its original title. It was made into a movie in 2003. The novel received a number of awards, including the Crystal Heart Award, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Best Scandinavian Children’s Book, the Boys Club of America Junior Book Award Gold Medal, and was an American Library Association Notable Book.

David is a twelve-year-old-boy who has lived his entire life in a concentration camp, in what can be best guessed from geographical clues as Bulgaria. David has no knowledge about his parents or family, or why he is in the camp. For most of the novel, the rulers of the camp are referred to as “them,” but later it is revealed that they came into power in 1917, the same year as the Russian Revolution. David has one friend inside the camp, whose name is Johannes, but the reader learns through a flashback that child died a while ago from a heart attack. There is one particular commandant of the concentration camp who has taken a strange interest in David, and he makes sure the boy has taken his vitamins and has enough to eat. One day, without much explanation, this man sets up an escape for David. He gives him some soap and hides a bag with bread, a bottle of water, and a compass in it outside the fenced perimeter of the camp. Then he turns off the electric current on the fence for just a moment, so David can sneak over. The man tells David to go south to Salonika, take a boat to Italy, and then make his way north to a country called Denmark.

David jumps on a truck headed to Salonika, and, hidden, eats some of the food that is in the truck bed. He jumps out when the truck stops, and looks around until he finds a boat labelled “Italy.” He sneaks onto the boat and hides again. David spends a few days hidden, and accidentally gets drunk on the alcohol he finds. He also gets lucky, because when he is finally found out, the Italian sailor decides to help the little boy, and lowers him gently over the side of the boat with a lifebelt on. David floats along in the sea, and finally falls asleep again.

David takes a long bath (he was getting quite dirty), and climbs around. He finds a cave and decides to spend the day there. David realises that he does not know anything about life outside the camp and so he decides to go to a nearby town to learn what he can. He receives a loaf of bread, and returns to the town for several days. People begin to wonder about David, and he explains the reason he can speak so many languages and why he is travelling is because he works for a circus. He hears people talking about him with suspicion in their voices, so he runs away, heading north.

Along the way, David helps people, and they sometimes show their gratitude with money. David’s journey begins to change how he interacts with people and how he sees the world now that he is outside the concentration camp. One day he saves a girl from a fire in a shed where she was trapped. The girl’s name is Maria, and David spends some time with her and her family. They teach him about the different countries of the world, of which he was previously ignorant. But the family begins to be concerned about his relationship with Maria, and are worried about his extensive knowledge concerning death and pain. David does not get along with the eldest son of the family. After hearing the adults speaking about him privately, David leaves a note and flees again. Much later he sees an ad in the paper written by Maria’s parents, who say they would like to offer David a home, and they understand his previous reserved nature.

At one point on his travels, David is told by a priest that there is only one god.

Later, David meets Sophie, a middle-aged lady in Switzerland who paints. She asks David if she might paint him, and invites him to visit and have lunch with her. While visiting, David sees a picture of a woman in Denmark, and Sophie says the woman’s husband and child, named David, were both killed. A guard let the woman escape because he was in love with her. David realises that the woman in the picture is his mother, and the guard who helped him escape was the guard who helped his mother escape.

Winter arrives, and David is held prisoner in the mountains by a farmer who uses him for work. Though he is being held as a slave, David is grateful for shelter from the snow, and is kept company by the farmer’s dog, King. When the snow thaws, he digs a hole in the stable which turns into a tunnel, and escapes, followed by King. This dog later sacrifices his life so that David can sneak over the East Germany border while the guards are distracted by the dog.

When David arrives in Copenhagen he looks up his mother’s address in the telephone book. When she answers the door, she recognises him right away.