Summary: Hired to care for babies without speaking to them or giving them affection for an experiment about language, Johanna’s concern grows as the babies become listless and start dying. Unable to take it anymore, Johanna decides to rescue baby Rebecca and make her way from Germany to the Netherlands. As a Jewish girl living in the early 1700s, her journey is filled with religious discrimination and sexism, but the kindness of strangers help her achieve her goal and start a new life in a country where she is considered to be worthy of being a citizen.
Number of Pages: 150
Age Range: 14-16
Review: I was a bit confused because I read some reviews labeling The Baby Experiment as a work of historical fiction. Besides perhaps giving her reader a glimpse into life for a Jewish girl in the early 1700s, Dublin explicitly states at the beginning of her book that the story is a complete work of fiction. I did gain insight into a pre-war Germany that was still anti-semitic, and learned about more about the Netherlands, but I think Dublin’s book was meant as more of an imaginative story than being a historical study.
While Dublin’s book is not exactly historical fiction, it does draw on real life experiments. I looked it up because I was so horrified, and it turns out that in a effort to find out if there is one true language, experiments have been conducted involving infants being deprived of all language in the hope that whatever language they end up speaking is ingrained in them from birth. Sort of part of the human genome. It’s a study that has been repeated a few times, with varying results. I loved Dublin’s premise from the Talmud – because Johanna realises while she is in a powerless situation, she does have the power to save one life, and she does so willingly, even though it puts her in danger. By saving Rebecca’s life, she has saved the whole world.
It’s a quick read with full of plot twists, and Johanna is a worthy heroine.
“‘Whoever destroys one life it is as though he had destroyed a whole world, and whoever saves one life it is as though he had saved a whole world.'” – Talmud (Mishnah, Sanh, 4-5) from The Baby Experiment by Anne Dublin