Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A flower behind barbed wire


Elizabeth Wein’s last book, Code Name Verity, was one of my favorite reads of 2012 (you can read my review here). I’ve been eagerly looking forward to her follow-up book, Rose Under Fire, ever since.  It doesn't disappoint.

Rose Justice grew up on her father’s Pennsylvania airfield and learned to fly as a young girl. When World War II broke out, Rose’s British uncle pulled some strings to get Rose admitted to the British Air Transport Auxiliary, where she and other women pilots fly non-combat missions, freeing up the male pilots for wartime flying.

After the liberation of Paris in 1944, she’s flying in France when she goes astray and gets taken by the Germans. Rose Under Fire tells the story of her ordeal in the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

Over 30,000 women were imprisoned at Ravensbrück. They included Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, lesbians, and political prisoners (like Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch Christian who hid Anne Frank).

Notoriously, around 80 of the Polish prisoners were subjected to cruel, often crippling medical experiments. Known as Kroliki (Polish for “rabbits”), those who survived the experiments were protected and cared for by the other women inmates. When, in the waning days of the war, the Germans began exterminating the prisoners of Ravensbrück, inmates hid the Kroliki, secretly moving them from barracks to barracks in an effort to keep them alive.

In Ravensbrück, Rose suffers from overcrowding, cold, hunger, and the constant fear of violent death. She also finds a desperate, determined community of women there, and takes part in the terrifying efforts to protect the Kroliki.

Rose Under Fire is an absorbing and suspenseful tale of resilience and sacrifice during the one of the darkest episodes of the War. I love the historical setting and exciting plot, and it’s my opinion that no one writes about the complicated friendships of women better than Elizabeth Wein.

You don’t have to read Code Name Verity before Rose Under Fire, but these books are so good - why not read both?

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