Saturday, September 14, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein is another emotionally evocative World War II novel from the author of Code Name Verity.

Rose Justice is an eager young pilot from America, serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary. Like many young Americans who have come overseas to fight, Rose is naive and romantic, dreaming of heroic deeds. When her plane is captured by enemy fighters, Rose ends up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she will be pushed to her limits physically, emotionally, and mentally in the struggle to survive each day. In Ravensbrück, Rose discovers the depths of the atrocities committed against these women by the Nazis -- but she also discovers their courage, compassion, and loyalty. Rose is befriended by a few of the Polish prisoners known as the Rabbits, who have been experimented upon in horrific ways by Nazi doctors. Though the experiments are over, the many other inhumanities that the prisoners suffer -- the filth, beatings, starvation, and executions -- continue. How can Rose and her fellow prisoners survive?

From the way the book is structured, the reader knows early on that Rose does survive, as the bulk of the narrative is Rose's diary, written just after her ordeal. That does not make the story any less gripping, especially as the reader gets to know and care about Rose's companions. Rose will survive, but many others will not. And even Rose is left with the trauma and emotional wounds of her imprisonment, afraid to leave her room and face other people, unable to even speak to her mother on the telephone about the things that have happened to her. Can Rose find enough courage to speak out, to be a voice for those who perished?

The events of this book take place not long after those of Code Name Verity, and some characters from that book appear in this one, but it is not necessary to read Code Name Verity before reading Rose Under Fire. That said, I find myself mentally comparing the two books, which is, perhaps, not fair. Rose has her own distinct voice and story, and the events described are just as wrenching and terrible as those in Code Name Verity. However, the plot of Rose Under Fire is much more straightforward than that of its predecessor. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, or neither. Probably neither -- it's just different. I don't love Rose Under Fire quite as much as Code Name Verity, but I do think it's an excellent book, and if you have the stomach for concentration camp stories, I definitely recommend it.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

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