Refugee Questions and Answers
by Alan Gratz

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What is the climax of Refugee?

There are three climaxes in the novel Refugee. The first is when the Nazis catch the Landau family and Josef and Rachel are taken to the concentration camp while Ruthie is allowed to go free. The second is when Isabel and others disembark at Miami. The third is when Mahmoud leads the Syrian refugees to Austria.

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Each of the three stories that comprise Refugee has its own climax. In addition, because the stories are joined by a common thread, there is another climax for the novel as a whole.

While there are numerous distinctive features to each story, the quest for refuge is a common plot element of all of them. For Josef, the climax comes when he makes a decision to join his mother and give his sister a chance at freedom. For Isabel, the climax is her safe arrival with her family in Florida. Mahmoud, similarly, finds a safe haven when he and his relatives reach Austria. In Mahmoud’s story, the connections among the three stories are revealed as Ruth, Josef’s sister, plays a key role in aiding his family.

The refugees in all three stories must leave their home country and try to find safety in a different nation. Josef’s story is notably different from the other two, in that the protagonist apparently does not reach that safe haven. He, his mother, and his sister are relieved to reach France after fleeing Nazi Germany. However, the family is apprehended, and only one of the children can be freed. Rather than force his mother to choose, Josef voluntarily stays with her—an action that the reader assumes will liberate his sister, Ruthie.

Isabel and her family leave Cuba with their destination being the United States. Much of the suspense during their sea voyage is provided by her mother giving birth en route. The climax occurs when not only the girl but her mother and the newborn baby reach Florida. As a link to a character from the previous story is established, it foreshadows further connections.

In the third tale, Mahmoud and his family flee Syria, passing through Hungary and on to Austria. Despite losing one sibling, the climax shows most of the family finding safety. The connection with the first story occurs simultaneously, as we learn that Ruthie did survive, although Josef and their mother perished. She becomes the person who helps Mahmoud.

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Danielle Johnson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Because there are three protagonists and story threads in the novel Refugee by Alan Gratz, each story has its own climax. The conflict in each story is the flight from home to escape danger that is resolved by the protagonists persevering in finding new ones.

Chronologically, the first climax occurs for Josef, the twelve-year-old Jewish boy fleeing Germany with his family, when the Landau family is relocated in France. Josef, his sister Ruthie, and their mother Rachel are caught by Nazis, and Rachel is forced to choose which of her children will accompany her to a concentration camp and which will go free. We learn that Josef volunteers to go with Rachel so that Ruthie will survive.

The second climax occurs for Isabel, the eleven-year-old Cuban girl fleeing Cuba during Castro's reign, when her family and her neighbors, the Castillos, reach Miami. They have suffered many trials and tribulations at sea, and with Miami in sight, Isabel's mother, Teresa, goes into labor. Through the self-sacrificing distraction of the Coast Guard by Lito (Isabel's father, and a character in the Landau's flight from Germany), Isabel and the others reach shore just as her new baby brother is born.

The third climax occurs for Mahmoud, the thirteen-year-old Syrian boy fleeing the Syrian civil war with his family, when Mahmoud leads a band of refugees out of the Hungarian refugee camp. He and his family, after losing his baby sister Hana, being robbed, beaten, and incarcerated, finally decide to simply walk out of the camp and head to Austria. Ultimately, Mahmoud and his family find safe haven with Ruthie, who had been saved by her brother Josef so many years before.

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