Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

Alrighty! Here's the first of my long overdue reviews. This is one of the best books I read in 2013.

When I heard there was a companion book to Code Name Verity, I was both excited and a little worried. How could Elizabeth Wein write another book that powerful, that moving, that brilliant? And did I want to read another book that powerful and moving? So many terrible, terrible things happened during WWII: did I really want to read about more of them?

The answer is yes. Most resoundingly.

Because we still need to know what happened during WWII. We still haven't learned what we need to learn about the terrible things humans do to other humans.

And because Wein's books are full of hope and courage and poetry and strength.

From Wein's Afterword:
What I'd really like to pound into the reader's head, if there's any lesson to be learned here, is that I didn't make up Ravensbruck. I didn't make up anything about Ravensbruck. Often, I have had to fill in the blanks--when the toilets stopped working, how thick the mattresses were, how you might improvise a sanitary pad. The little things. The terrible and the unbelievable, the gas chambers and the medical experiments and the twenty-five lashes, propping up the dead to make the roll call count come out right, the filth and the dog bites and the curl hunts and the administration and politics of bowls, I did not make up. It was real. It really happened to 150, 000 women. And that is just one camp.
But if you think you don't want to read a book about a concentration camp, because it will be depressing and you just don't want to know about such horrible things, trust me: you have to read Rose Under Fire. Hope. Courage. Poetry. (The best use of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetry I've ever seen.) Strength.

Character. The characters in this novel shout off the page: we are people! We are PEOPLE! And the thing is, however tragic it was, there is something fiercely joyful about that brazen assertion in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Wein captures that joy, that ferocity.

I finished the book a little breathless, with tears in my eyes, wanting to do that fist pump of victory the sports players do as they come off the field. Yes! Humanity wins again. We do have it in us.

Beautiful book. She's such a brilliant writer. My food analogy is strudel (there's a recipe a few pages into the linked article): not the flaky fruit-filled kind; this is a wartime German dish--suitable for nourishing a whole family with only potatoes, flour and oil, and so delicious that my kids asked their grandmother to make it for Christmas Eve dinner this year.

1 comment:

  1. oh good! I have been so afraid to read this book for exactly the reasons you address. I'm so, so, so happy to have read your review. It's helping me muster up the courage to finally read this book. I STILL tear up whenever I think of Code Name Verity.