1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.
Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.
Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.
This is not a happy book. I liked the characters; their strength, determination, and resourcefulness. I cannot even imagine hiding in a sewer for months on end. I did find the idea that Ella could stand in the middle of a street over a sewer grate for long enough to have entire conversations and give Sadie food and no one noticed a bit far-fetched. That wasn’t believable to me, but apart from that, I found the book entirely readable, even if sad.
Pam Jenoff is a bestselling author. The Woman with the Blue Star is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)
Jacob and Moses Stein are staying with their aunt amidst the Nazi occupation, while their parents search for a safe place for the family to be reunited. Before they can, the French gendarmes round up the Jews and detain them in the massive Vélodrome d’Hiver. Jacob and Moses are determined to escape and find their parents, but all they have is a handful of letters to lead them across the Nazi-filled countryside. Along the way they cross paths with many people who are determined to help them find their parents—no matter the cost.
Children of the Stars was a good historical read, but it was a little too…nice to be believable for me. Despite the harrowing time period, I never felt the boys were truly in danger, and I always knew they would find their parents in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I like happy endings, but this tone felt wrong for the story. These boys are alone in the midst of atrocities and horror, but those stakes never seemed to touch them, making this much less believable for me, although I enjoyed the characters themselves. This felt like a book aimed at a younger audience, with its characters who were never truly in danger.
Mario Escobar loves history. Children of the Stars is his new novel.
(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)
Pam Jenoff is a lawyer and former government employee who now teaches law school. She is an award-winning author, and her newest novel is The Orphan’s Tale.
Noa’s family kicked her out when she became pregnant by a Nazi soldier. She was forced to give up her baby, and took a job cleaning a rail station. When a boxcar full of Jewish infants headed for a concentration camp stops at the station, Noa finds herself stealing one of the babies and escaping into the snowy night.
A German circus takes Noa in, and she’s forced to learn the trapeze to earn her keep and so she can blend in. Her presence puts the entire circus at risk, and she butts heads with the lead aerialist, Astrid, who must train her. Soon, she and Astrid forge a strong bond, as the threat to the circus looms larger, and the two women must overcome the secrets between them if they—and the rest of the circus—are to survive.
I was supposed to read this last month, and somehow skipped over it. I’m so glad I figured that out and read this! It’s a dark book, set in one of the bleakest periods of human history. World War II-era Germany was a terrifying place to be Jewish, and this danger snakes through every page of this book. The tragedies faced by both Noa and Astrid are harrowing, at best, and the way they fight to overcome them and reach for a brighter future is both inspiring and sad. This is a great read, but not for someone looking for a book that’s light or happy—despite being set in a circus.
When Marceline was fifteen, she and her father were arrested by the government. He told her that he would not come back. They were sent to concentration camps, he to Auschwitz, and she to Birkenau. The three kilometers separating them might as well have been a million. Occasional glimpses of her father kept her going, but the note he managed to get to her kept her hope alive even in her horrendous, terrifying surroundings. She made it out of the camp alive and came home. Her father did not come back.
But You Did Not Come Back is a novella-length letter that Marceline wrote to her father, the man she never knew as an adult. Her experiences in the concentration camp colored the rest of her life, and through it all, her father’s memory lived on, her grief over him shadowing every day. Eventually, Marceline found her calling as an activist for refuges and as a documentary filmmaker.
Her heart-wrenching tale is filled with emotion and sorrow, grief and determination, in this memoir of one of the darkest times in history.
(Galley provided by Grove Atlantic via NetGalley.)