Thursday, 27 June 2013

Rose Under Fire - Elizabeth Wein (review)

Synopsis adapted from Elizabeth Wein's website: Rose Justice is a young pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. On her way back from a semi-secret flight in the waning days of the war, Rose is captured by the Germans and ends up in Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi women's concentration camp. There, she meets an unforgettable group of women, including a once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist; a resilient young girl who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors; and a Nachthexen or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. These damaged women must bond together to help each other survive. In this companion volume to the critically acclaimed novel Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein continues to explore themes of friendship and loyalty, right and wrong, and unwavering bravery in the face of indescribable evil.

Source: Bought from Amazon Kindle
Rating: 4 - Highly Recommended

I came to Rose Under Fire with high hopes. After devouring its companion novel Code Name Verity and recommending it to everyone I could think of, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Elizabeth Wein’s next offering to see if it could possibly match up. Amazingly, it did.
Code Name Verity was a sucker-punch of a novel. It reeled me in, lulled me into a false sense of security, and then delivered a final blow that left me curled up on the couch sobbing and glad that my housemates were out so they didn't witness my embarrassing emotional breakdown. Rose Under Fire was different. The main character Rose Justice spends most of the novel in Ravensbruck concentration camp, and the story tells of the fight for survival, not only her own, but her adopted family’s. Instead of being crippled by one large emotional blow, I instead found myself on the verge of tears for most of the book, sometimes not even because of particular events, but just because of the very real sense of how the daily grind of living in the dirt and the squalor of a concentration camp could crush anybody’s hope.
What I love about Wein’s writing is that, for me, she has given the Second World War a really human face. I remember learning about WW2 every year at school from the age of about 7. That repetition made the war feel really commonplace, unexceptional almost. I became numb to the hardships and pain of those who went through it. Code Name Verity, and now Rose Under Fire, have helped me to rediscover that period of history and think more about the individuals caught up in it.
Yet despite that strong sense of place, and the incredible amount of research that Wein obviously does to make sure that her novels are as accurate as possible, they still contain really universal themes. The power of friendship for example. Code Name Verity was at its heart a love story between two best friends, Rose Under Fire continues the theme of friendship and shows how strong those bonds can become, stronger than family ties perhaps. We’re reminded once again of the endurance of the human spirit, and how writing can be anyone’s salvation, no matter their situation. Rose is a poet and her beautiful poems are strewn throughout the text, supplementing the narrative and providing a link between her and the other captives in the camp. Sometimes I read them over and over again before resuming the story, just to soak in their ability to bring beauty to such a painful situation. While the idea of poetry could put some people off, if you see poetry as being highbrow and stuffy, I promise you these poems are anything but. Plus Rose’s down to earth narration never feels anything but natural; like a friend telling another friend a story.

Original Photo by Pa0lo Camera from Flickr
I could go on longer about all the reasons I love Rose Under Fire (lady pilots! different languages! morally grey characters!), but I won’t, because I want you to discover it all for yourself. So please, prepare your heart and pick up a copy; you won’t be disappointed.

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