Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein // Look! My heart shattered into pieces on the floor.

17262236While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that's in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

I read this book at a bad time. I had just seen an opera called The Passenger which was about Women's Concentration Camps, particularly Auschwitz, and it was REMARKABLY and HEARTWRENDINGLY realistic for an opera. You think that opera is all about big spectacle and extravagant costumes and drama? Think again. The Passenger had me in tears three hours straight. It was awfully good and painful. 

Here are pictures from the production I saw:

So somehow I thought it was a good idea, right after watching this emotionally triggering and realistic opera about women's concentration camps, to read Rose Under Fire, an emotionally triggering and realistic book about women's concentration camps. 

I think I dehydrated myself from crying all these tears.

On top of it all, I have family history with these sorts of situations. I have reasonably close relatives who were sent to concentration camps, and many more, closer relatives, who were very near to being sent. And my own grandmother, who is right now sitting next to me peacefully eating her own homemade borscht, was running away under Nazi fire as an eight year old when her Ukrainian village was bombed. I would literally not exist if she had been taken to a camp and killed. 

So any sort of World War II story is extremely, extremely real to me, even if I never experienced it first-hand, because I grew up hearing the stories constantly.

It was so, so stressful reading this book. I didn't realize how many times my heart could be shattered. But it was also so, so upliftingly beautiful, because somehow, humanity finds a way to hold on to beauty even in the most horrific situations. The prisoners grasped on to anything to keep them alive. Even in situations that WE couldn't even DREAM of, they still wished to live and still clung to whatever they could. 
Somehow, humans are so tenacious and hopeful and resilient and lovely, that it gives me hope for humanity. 

The descriptions of the camp and its inmates was so torturous and yet so lovely and yet so disgusting and heartbreaking. Reading a book like this isn't easy. It isn't relaxing, and it takes something out of you. But in the end, you feel such empathy for those people involved - even though the characters weren't real, they were based on thousands and thousands of real people who suffered such things. And then it's not just about the Concentration Camps. PTSD is SUCH a real thing, so that even after you are technically "free," you can never really go back to the life before. Something of the horrors always lingers. And PTSD and its type were dealt with SO realistically in this book. 

I don't know how Elizabeth Wein does it, but she is somehow able to paint such impactful pictures with her words - pictures that are so real that it almost seems as though we are there with the characters, experiencing their struggles and emotions. Isn't this what good writing is all about? Bringing the reader into the experience? Elizabeth Wein is a master. I loved Code Name Verity (which is Book One of this series - Rose Under Fire is Book Two but they are fine as standalones) but I cried more for this one. Code Name Verity felt more plot-centered and twisty than this one. Rose Under Fire was more about characters and experiences and daily life in Hell. 

One particular thing I adored was this juxtaposition of poetry with the dangers and fatalities and Nazi awfulness. There was poetry interwoven through the book - whether it was Edna St. Vincent Millay (whom I now need to read more of because she writes loveliness) or Rose (which really means it was Elizabeth Wein, which means Elizabeth Wein is a spectacular poet). Good poetry makes my heart leap in a special way - like this:

Understand the horrible things that happened, so that they aren't forgotten.
Understand the tenacity of the human spirit, and have hope for humanity.
Understand the loveliness of LIFE, despite the atrocities that taint it.

Don't you think that if everyone read a book like this, about the atrocities committed - not only in Nazi Camps, but in other horrific historical crimes - the world would become a better place? I have a complicated thought about Empathy and Reading and Psychology and World Peace that isn't fully sorted out yet in my mind, but maybe one of these days I will be able to post something about it.



  1. Oh, wow. I...think I need to go to the library. Today. Except it's Sunday. :(

    You made me want both of those books sooo hard. I need a book that will make me FEEL things, you know?

    1. If you want a book that will make you FEEL things, Elizabeth Wein is the QUEEN OF FEELS. I hope you get a chance to read them soon!

  2. I love that book. A lot. Wein writes so convincingly. What especially makes it real, and heartbreaking, for me, is the beauty and tenacity of the female friendships. I found that especially in CNV; the friendship of Maggie and Verity was so incredible and real. I love how she portrays the women holding onto hope through each other. I loved scene in RUF when it was her birthday and they gave her tiny presents.

    Wow. That book.

    Beautiful review, Sophia.

    1. YES EXACTLY. That's exactly what I like about her too! It's so real.

      I'm glad you enjoyed my review!

  3. I have CNV in my TBR shelf, like, the physical shelf. While I knew it was about WWII, I didn't think it was that serious and heartbreaking. Now I want to read it even more, but I think I will save it for a gloomy-ish day.

    I collect holocaust stories and feel a deep respect for the actual people who suffered these atrocities, and also for the allies who were bombed. Last March I met a man in London's Imperial War Museum who was telling his story as part of the exhibition and it was the most heartbreaking and important thing I've ever listened to. You're right in what you say about remembering our history to help make the world a better place.

    1. Um I don't know if I'd save it for a gloomy day, because it might make that day more gloomy? :-P

      OH MY that exhibit sounds intense. I'd love to see something like that one day. I went to Ellis Island in New York and they had recordings in one room that you could listen to immigrants recount their experiences, but to hear it live - wow.

  4. I need to read this STAT! Loved her Code Name Verity... i can't wait to sob over this book too. Wein is such a wonderful author

  5. This book made me bawl my heart out and I don't even have that kind of personal (well family) experience about the whole thing. OMG. YOUR GRANDMOTHER. That is amazing. :O But yes yes Rose Under Fire TORE A HOLE IN ME. But I loved it (the audio had all the accents and afjdklsfa It was just so incredible) and Roza was like a horrible but endearingly adorable little thing. And I loved Rose too. I just...gah, after all they went through? I CRIED, THIS VULCAN CRIED.


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