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REVIEW: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

 

“While 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?”

Dear Ms. Wein,

I enjoyed your book Code Name Verity so much that when I heard you’d have a new book out this year, I got right on obtaining a copy. Based on the blurb and what I felt after finishing “Verity,” I knew it wouldn’t be an easy book to read but I was hoping that it would be as memorable and as good. Once again, I think you’ve managed to deliver a story of courage and strength though it might be a touch intense as a YA novel.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, recommended by Jayne

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, recommended by Jayne

Last year, I didn’t read any other reviews of “Verity” to avoid spoilers. This year since I finished “Rose” before the release date, I didn’t have to worry about that. Still I decided to not look into the history of Ravensbruck too closely so it would be as much a shock to me as it probably would be for Rose. I had heard of the name of the camp but none of the details. The decision was a wise one because the intensity of the details was undiluted.

For all that I must say that the book gets off to a moderately slow start. Kind of like sitting on a plane which is lined up, waiting for clearance to take off and it keeps getting delayed. There is lots of exposition which is useful for those who didn’t read the first book and or know little about the ATA. Some details, such as Rose’s reaction to the doodlebugs, are important while others, such as a certain romance I was hoping to see occur between two characters from “Verity,” are a sweet gift but nonetheless, I was raring to get to the heart of the book.

But once it gets going, it’s initially like numbing shock that slowly wears off leaving you wide open to Rose’s dawning horror of what’s going on at Ravensbruck. The ways and means that figure into Rose’s survival there echo what I’ve heard in documentaries about POWs. Little things will save a life or take it. One must have a buddy or buddy system to watch one’s back. Someone with a reason to live will be more likely to remain unbroken while a way to occupy the mind helps keep mental collapse at bay.

Rose’s poetry serves to exercise her mind, help her deal with the conditions of the camp and initially connect with the group of women who will be crucial to getting her out of there alive. Later she discovers a fellow pilot who joins their “family” but first and foremost, writing and expressing her emotions through poetry helps get her through the bleakest times. I thought the details of what Rose and the others endured were more explicitly laid out and might be harder to read about than in “Verity” but since the setting is a German WWII concentration camp, I realized that it wasn’t going to be pretty. What I felt added to the impact they had on me is how understated they are. Raw, yes, but not sensationalized.

I loved the scenes of Rose’s “family” working together to make conditions just a little less hellish, to sustain each other, to defy the camp authorities when possible, to lift their spirits and keep some amount of hope alive, to save each other’s lives.

One of Rose’s tasks is to memorize the long list of Rabbit names by turning them into poetry to be sure their story is told and none are forgotten. The details of the Rabbits made me want to gather them all up in my arms and weep. The determination of the camp inmates to save these women to bear witness against the Nazis for the medical experimentation done on them made me want to cheer.

Rose’s disbelief that the Germans knew they were losing but kept on fighting is one I have always shared. Why more death and destruction with the outcome already beyond doubt? But at least the threat of the Allies’ advance and publicity over what had gone on at the camp was enough to barter for people’s lives who had ended up on the daily execution list.

One thing I think that is done exceptionally well here is in how the freed prisoners – here mainly shown by Rose – react once they’re freed. Her fear of open spaces, of making choices, of feeling overwhelmed into inactivity make sense. Her inability to speak on what happened to her, despite her best intentions, mirrors real life. The fact that her experience haunts her for years and she doesn’t begin to come to terms with it until she’s spoken again with a former camp “family” member seem realistic.

It was delightful to see some returning characters from “Verity” – Maddie and Jamie – yah!, his mother who is still taking in strays from the war, and a bit about the orphaned boys from Edinburgh. I was more ambivalent about another – Anna the German criminal/foreman in the camp – and left wondering about her ultimate fate. One thing was for certain – I wouldn’t want to be a close friend of Maddie’s and end up in German territory as the track record for these people isn’t good!

Recently I watched a documentary – The Botany of Desire – which discussed how scientists have discovered that a natural substance similar to THC is helpful to human existence in that it allows us to forget. Being able to forget some of the worst experiences of the camp is something that Rose finds to be vital. She also learns how hope – of even little things – keeps them all going. How defiance lifts their spirits. The ending is hopeful but not yet complete as Rose and the others still have a long way to go to come to terms with what they survived – and this feels right – but there appear to be some rays of sunshine breaking through the gloomy clouds. I feel relatively positive about things, even if more than a little wrung out. I doubt I could read more than one of your books in a year but I’m still glad to read that one. B

~Jayne

 

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

20 Comments

  1. tanya
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 08:11:29

    I was going to say I’m just not interested in a WWII story after “Code Name Verity,” because when the bar is that high, I just don’t want to go under it. And now that I see the author’s name, I’m going to have to buy this tonight.

  2. Jayne
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 08:32:23

    @tanya: Wein has set high standards for herself but she keeps meeting them via the payoffs of her books. I remember some people saying it took them awhile to get into “Verity” and I think this is another book that requires a little patience at the beginning that is rewarded at the end.

  3. Darlene Marshall
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 08:41:53

    Thanks for sharing review. I was so impressed and moved by Code Name Verity that I practically strong-armed friends into reading it, and they all thanked me afterward. I’m looking forward to more great novels from Ms. Wein.

  4. tanya
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 08:43:31

    Yes, @Jayne, it took me awhile to get into “Verity,” I’m one of those! And I even noted it in my Goodreads review. But once I did, it was like a rollercoaster going downhill to the end. I’ve heard the audiobook is phenomenal, and I’m going to get it on Audible just to “rehear” it. I’ve also recommended it to several people. “Verity” and “The Fault in our Stars” are the only two fiction books I’ve read this year that had any sort of impact on me, and I’m in such a slump right now that I’m firing up the Kindle tonite. Can’t wait.

  5. Keishon
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 09:02:09

    You had me sold until I noticed the release date was September 10th. Bummer. I still haven’t read the first one so I should maybe start there.

  6. Jayne
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 09:03:16

    @Keishon: Yes. I just noticed that too. F*ckety. Sorry about that.

  7. Darlynne
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 12:43:39

    Perhaps in the lead up to the book’s release, we can all open our chests, rip out our hearts, stomp on them and then put them back; lather, rinse, repeat.

    I read Verity twice and have ordered the audio book. I knew this one was coming and I am both thrilled and nearly doubled over at the thought. Powerful doesn’t even come close.

    Thank you for the review.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 12:59:43

    @Darlynne: Thrilled and doubled over. Perfect way to describe it. From this point on I will go into Wein’s books knowing I’m going to feel as if I’ve been kicked in the stomach and, what’s more, I’m still going to jump and grab for the book.

  9. Faith
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 21:27:33

    I read this already too and I have to say you sum it up nicely. I knew I was going to be horrified after reading Verity last year but I don’t think I ever really realized how much. It’s amazing what history you don’t learn in school. Loved this book and am so looking forward to her next book.

  10. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 03:22:52

    @Faith: I am too but I wonder if she’s going to continue with WWII stories or something different.

  11. BRNZ
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 03:53:16

    I don’t know if Amazon have done an oops but I just bought the Kindle version of this, it says on their website that the HB release isnt til Sept 10 but it didnt say it on the Kindle listing and it let me buy it, on my Kindle now.

    Im in NZ but buy via the Amazon US website FWIW

  12. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 07:22:11

    @BRNZ: I’m so glad you could go ahead and get it. Her website lists June as the release for the UK and September for Canada and the US.

    It also has some links that look interesting to sites she used for background research.
    http://www.elizabethwein.com/

  13. Lynn M
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 09:18:11

    One thing that I really loved about “Code Name Verity” was the fact that while “Verity” underwent absolute horrors during her incarceration, her sense of humor in telling her story made it a lot easier for me as a reader to handle them myself. I didn’t have to put the book aside because I couldn’t process the horrors of the story. I’m dying to read “Rose Under Fire”, but I’m such a wimp that I’m scared I won’t be able to handle what these concentration camp prisoners endure. I’m the kind of person who has to turn the channel if a documentary about such a topic is on because I can’t bear to watch!

  14. Estara Swanberg
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 13:32:13

    Elizabeth actually went to Ravensbrück for a week or so, last year, to a writers’ workshop. She got a permanent translator and was able to walk through what’s left of the KZ.

    I haven’t read this one yet, though I tried to clarify some terms for her. I teach history which means I visit Dachau once a year with the 9th graders (every Bavarian pupil of that age, when the 2nd World War is covered in History at school, is sponsored by the government to go to Dachau), so KZ horrors are fresh in my mind and not something I need to be acquainted with in my spare time reading.

    At least this school year we went through the mandatory lessons fast enough that I was able to show some very good documentaries about the developing war, Himmler and his part in killing the Jews and the last few weeks from the point of view of the Americans (who had lots of cameramen) – which had the added advantage of showing the boys young prisoners of wars and dead Reichswehr officers of their own age (because Hitler conscripted them out of the schools in those last months).

  15. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 18:49:57

    @Lynn M: There is some humor here – mostly from the Rabbits who use black humor to keep themselves going in the face of what happens in the camp.

  16. BRNZ
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 20:41:14

    @Jayne:

    Thankyou for the review Jayne, I was lucky enough to win a copy of Code Name Verity on a giveaway somewhere but I wouldnt have entered had it not been for the review I read here ages ago. Had no idea that she had written another one so am DELIGHTED to have it to read – I have some leave next week so might have a chance to get into it.

  17. Lynn M
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 08:54:25

    @Estara Swanberg: Wow, what an amazing experience that these students get to have – to actually visit Dachau and view history in person. I’m sure it really makes a huge impact and remains with them for their entire lives. I visited Dachau as an adult and it was beyond moving.

    I wonder, do you think your 9th grade students would benefit from reading a piece of well-written fiction like “Rose Under Fire” to give extra dimension to what they learn in text books and through their classes? Having a protagonist that they can use to vicariously experience the horrors that were a concentration camp seems like a natural fit.

  18. Estara Swanberg
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 09:57:45

    @Lynn M: I think if they had time to discuss it in school at the same time that History covers the period, that should work well. At least with mixed or all girl classes. I teach at an all boys school and can predict that they would have a prejudice because of the female focus, heh. I do think Code Name Verity gives a different emotional appeal than the documentaries, and in combination with a visit to a place like Dachau would remain in students’ minds longer.

    Our boys gripe quite a bit at the start of our Dachau trip, because we usually do it in January at my school and its bitterly icy cold on the Apellplatz – but the local history teachers who are their guides usually have such interesting aspects and tales of individuals who returned and gave more information, that they feel a resonance.

  19. T Matthey
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 00:12:01

    OK, here is my take …
    I am sooooo glad to be reading (almost finished) Rose … Bk 2 …
    my great aunt, sister to my grandfather, who moved his second family to the US during WWII, my Tante Jeanne, whom I met, who mothered me for a week when I was 4, again when I was 5 … well, Tante Jeanne was per family legend, the “most decorated woman in France.” Except one day I thought to ask “But we (Matthey’s) are Swiss?” Turns out we Matthey-Jonais de Talliers (I may have spelled Talliers wrong) were Swiss but my grandfather and his sibs had a truly French mother (Cecile, I believe but, since Tante Jeanne’s sister was a Cecile, her sister who was also arrested and “housed” by the Germans .. well, perhaps I am wrong re: names. Tante Jeanne is documented by the US Holocaust Museum as a “member” of Ravensbruck. Cecile was married. I can’t find her concentration camp info.
    They were tennis players … Apparently Tante Jeanne won the French Open before it was actually open. IN family lore, well, Tante Jeanne and Tante Cecile are posed hatless in a photo that we family say “the hatless Matthey girls won” as “champions.” \

    Tante Jeanne and Tante Cecile were hatless vs their opponents, in the photo I have some access to.

    I am hoping Someone can give me info re: Tante Cecile’s surname. She is not listed in the archives of the US Holocaust Museum under the Matthey-Jonais name (whereas her sister, Jeanne Matthey-Jonais is)

  20. Jayne
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 07:41:17

    @T Matthey:I asked Janine for suggestions and she replied: I suggest contacting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and asking them how to go about finding Cecile’s surname and other identifying information. They have extensive archives of Holocaust victim names and survivor testimonies, as well as a Holocaust History museum (and a Holocaust art museum, and multiple memorials).

    Here is their Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yad_Vashem

    Here is their English language website: http://www.yadvashem.org

    Here is their central Shoah victims names database. You can try that first:

    http://db.yadvashem.org/names/search.html?language=en

    And here is their contacts page: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/about/contacts/contacts.asp

    The contacts page gives an email contact form and multiple telephone and fax numbers but I would start with these I copied below at the end of this email, for Reference and Information. The first is a phone #, the second a fax #. I’d contact them and ask them how to go about finding Cecile. They will likely refer you to another department within Yad Vashem where information about Cecile might be found. I say might, there are no guarantees, but it’s worth a try to look.

    If calling, keep in mind the time zone differences between the US and Israel. That information can be found here:

    http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/israel/jerusalem

    Their hours are listed here, I would call then, unless they tell you to call back at a different time:

    http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/visiting/

    Most people in Israel are at least bilingual so chances are the people who work at Yad Vashem speak English. Anyway, the Reference and Information numbers are here:

    Yad Vashem Reference and Information Services 972-2-6443745 (phone)

    972-2-6443669 (fax)

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