I sandwiched Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein between The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, the ultimate beach read and The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle, the ultimate coming of age/love story. Talk about contrast. Which one is not like the others?
Rose Under Fire, the companion novel to Wein’s award winning Code Name Verity is equally compelling. In my post about Verity, I said “It is about the clash between what you do and what you portray to others…how you do or don’t live with yourself.” This holds true for Rose Under Fire as well. What I like about the main characters of these two books is their understated heroism.
Rose is an American 18 year old working as an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot in England in 1944, ferrying planes back and forth to troops that need them and flying damaged ones back for repair. On one flight she sees a buzz bomb and decides to attempt to dislodge it from its targeted course. After doing so, however, she gets intercepted by the Luftwaffe and is diverted to a German air base and ultimately transported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Rose’s story is told in three sections: Southampton, Ravensbruck and Nuremburg. Through a series of diary entries, Rose describes her life as a pilot, the atrocities (including medical experiments), comradship and inhumanity in the concentration camp and finally her escape, liberation and emotions during the Nuremburg trials.
I typically don’t read books about the Holocaust because I can’t stomach it. But Wein has a way with words and characters, making her books impossible to put down. While they describe the inhumane treatment suffered by the camp inmates at the hands of soldiers, other inmates, and civilians, it also describes lovingly the heroic deeds, large and small, that prisoners were capable of, the selfless acts that impacted others’ lives.
Wein leaves no doubt that the concentration camps, the commandants that ran them and the doctors who experimented on deportees were evil personified. She describes the horrendous conditions of the camps and the people living in them. However, she also, out of the darkest gloom shines a light on people who fought, within the camps, to save prisoners, people who saved a crust of bread for others, who would not work in the factories that manufactured bombs which would have been dropped on Allied forces.
While it is not necessary to read Code Name Verity to enjoy Rose Under Fire, both are worth reading. Wein has compiled a list of resources, including internet and survivor accounts. And, while Wein states that this is a work of fiction, the general descriptions of the camp is based on fact. I envision many awards for Rose Under Fire. Both books are a must read.