Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

rose under fireTitle: Rose Under Fire

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Series: Code Name Verity #2

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads)

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?

Review

I’ll confess, I’d never even heard of Ravensbrück before reading this. I know, like most people I imagine, an awful lot about Auschwitz and have an awareness that it wasn’t the only concentration camp. But actual stories about the horrors and the triumphs that occurred in these other camps I haven’t heard before. And it’s a tragedy because the people who lived and died there deserve to be remembered as much as those who lived and died at Auschwitz.

But having loved Code Name Verity, I trusted Elizabeth Wein to take me on a thoughtful and thoroughly researched tour of the events that took place. I wasn’t convinced I could love it as much as Code Name Verity – even The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, a book highly praised and lauded, is a difficult book to love – but I thought it would likely be thought provoking and affecting.

I wasn’t wrong on either count. I didn’t love it as much as Code Name Verity, but it was affecting and thought provoking, and heartbreaking and inspiring and wonderful and terrible and a lot of other things.

For fans of Code Name Verity, there’s a little fan service here, with the reappearance of Maddie (I was particularly pleased with where she was in the book, as I’d thought it was what Wien was hinting at towards the end of Code Name Verity!) She’s not in the book for a massive amount, but she has a couple of key moments that she gets involved with.

But otherwise the story is dedicated to the horrors of Ravensbrück – from the cruelty of the guards, the horrific work details to the even more horrific treatment of the Rabbits, and the suffering wrought by the Nazis in the name of ‘science.’ The characters are carefully drawn – quietly heroic but also flawed. Roza is mean spirited and spiteful and sometimes downright unlikeable, while Rose’s cowardice makes her moments of bravery all the more powerful.

And there are no easy answers either. Irena’s desperate situation – unable to return to her home country because she’ll be assumed a traitor. The gruff German Anna, imprisoned in Ravensbrück for refusing to debase herself, but not before she assisted in some of the horrors. We don’t want to feel sympathy for her, because it’s easy to blanketly hate the Nazis as ‘evil’, but Wein’s not so narrow minded. She knows that a lot of the horrors were committed under duress, and that many Germans suffered as much under the Nazis as the rest of Europe did.

The book close with the trials that tried to pick apart the tangled mess. Even though the titular character is Rose Justice – you get the feeling that it was an impossible task for there to be any. Just the other week, a 96 year old man was sentenced to imprisonment for his crimes in the war. It seems a pathetic afterthought. But Rose is squeamish about the idea of putting her prison guards to death, and she’s right to be. These questions about morality and justice elevate the book to ‘must read’ status. Wein presents challenging ideas through her characters without ever seeming to lean one way or the other, and in that she’s challenging us as readers to think about it long after we’ve closed the final pages – or listened to the final minutes of the audiobook in my case – and to remember.

Rating: 5/5

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