Buy Rose Under Fire
Special price $9.88 Regular price: $9.99
Publisher: Doubleday Canada; Disney-Hyperion
Reviewer: Melissa on July 1, 2015
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Rose Justice is a young, American pilot with the British Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. She has been flying since she was 12, meaning that she has more flight hours than many of the men with the same job or who are in the Air Force. Nevertheless, while on her way back from a secret flight to France in the waning days of the war, she is captured by the Germans and finds herself in Ravensbrück, the notorious concentration camp for women in Nazi Germany. In Rose Under Fire, the companion novel of Elizabeth Wein’s critically acclaimed novel Code Name Verity, Rose meets an unforgettable cast of characters while imprisoned, including a resilient teenager who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors; the once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist whose Jewish husband and three children were killed right before her eyes; and a Nachtheexen, or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviets. Under the most harrowing of conditions, these broken women must bond together to help each other survive. As in Code Name Verity, this story continues exploring themes of friendship and loyalty, unwavering bravery in the face of evil, and right and wrong.
Back in 2012, I read and fell in love with the characters Elizabeth Wein developed in Code Name Verity, but I didn’t get around to reading the companion novel, Rose Under Fire, until very recently. For the most part, I know this neglect had something to do with my very large, and ever-increasing TBR pile. (I’m sure that most of my readers understand where I’m coming from here.) However, another part, the part that I didn’t allow admit to myself was that unlike Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire takes place in a concentration camp, so I knew that it would be hard for me to read. It’s not only the inhumanity of man indicative of Nazi concentration camps, but also the setting meant I’d have to revisit the chilling memories I have of visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau with my sister.
Even though Wien’s writing about a different concentration camp than the ones I visited, I would get flashbacks to the bunks and washroom facilities in Birkenau whenever Rose and her friends speak about the conditions in Block 32. I’d heard about the benefits of sleeping on the top bunk from our museum tour guide at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but Wein infused these and other inhumane conditions with the living, breathing three-dimensional characters that she develops, including Rose, Elodie, Róza, Lisette, and Irina, which made these horrific experiences more real to me. Similarly, the damage to the Rabbits’ legs at the hands of Nazi doctors was particularly well done. I remember the tour guide pointing out a particular building at Auschwitz where heinous experiments, like the ones Róza experienced, took place. But it wasn’t until reading Rose Under Fire that I had a real understanding of what they’d done and it became clear to me how this form of torture affected the 74 prisoners’ lives forever more. While Wein often fills in the gaps of historical knowledge in her other novels with guesses about what happened, she didn’t need to do that with Rose Under Fire. Instead, everything that Rose and the other inmates experience is a clever transformation of real-life facts into flesh and blood experiences.
In addition to these descriptions and the effect they had on me, Wein’s writing is absolutely breath-taking. She develops an extended metaphor about hope and the way it changes for people who have come face-to-face with the horrors of concentration camps and war. It also speaks to Rose’s understanding of when having hope is hurtful, when it only holds off the pain of knowing the truth a little longer, when it gives the people experiencing it a false sense of security that will, at some point, come crashing down. Wein also uses parallel structure at a key point in the narrative to speak to the all-consuming fear that Rose and her friends felt after the events of New Year’s Day, 1945. Finally, Rose’s poetry and the fantasies she tells her bunkmates where Nick rescues them and brings all the food she wishes they could eat, suggest that an extensive imagination can keep even the darkest thoughts at bay a little while longer. It is these, and other, stunning turns of phrase that make it impossible to put down Rose’s story once you pick it up.
One of issues that Rose and her friends grapple with is how unthinkable the Nazis’ crimes were. Even though their doctors and other medical professionals tortured Róza, I loved how she struggled with believing how far the Nazis would go to enact a campaign of genocide. The victims, in this case, parallel the disbelief that some people who weren’t privy to the Nazis’ daily acts of violence might have had after the war. It isn’t that Rose and her fellow inmates consider the survivors from Auschwitz to be liars, but rather, the number of murders the Nazis were responsible are beyond comprehension. Róza asks, “Who was doing the counting?” immediately after Rose creates a counting rhyme with the names of the 74 Rabbits. This juxtaposition acts as proof that just as Rose, Róza, and Lisette will remember the names of the Polish women who were tortured by doctors, there were other survivors at the death camps who kept a mental record of the lives lost there, even though we don’t know the latter by name. Through her clever language play, Wein strengthens her own, and Rose’s, mission to tell the world what happened at Ravensbrück.
If you still haven’t read Rose Under Fire, then pick it up today. Wein brings back the themes that readers have grown to love about her novel, Code Name Verity, and even gives us glimpses of some of our favorite characters, like Maddie. While the main characters may be fictionalizations, readers of historical fiction, in general, and YA historical novels, in particular, will appreciate the factual truth of everything Wein shares about one of the darkest periods in the 20th century.
Buy Rose Under Fire today!