Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rose and Roza

Elizabeth Wein set herself a very high bar with Code Name Verity.  This is often a problem with the first book--by an author, in a series, etc.

Rose Under Fire suffers from the comparison, which is sad, because it's a very good book.  It's powerful and tragic and the characters are so brave and sad and human.  And there are such moments of triumph, without lies or glossing over what a concentration camp was.

Verity had two things going for it that Rose didn't: one, there was a twist, a big reversal that I didn't quite see coming but that created in me a love that I suspect will be everlasting for Elizabeth Wein.  She went from being just someone who wrote this book to the Mind behind it, someone who was steps ahead of me and meticulously crafting the story.  I mean, when it was revealed that there was more going on than I realized, every piece was in place, every clue was there, and every detail fit together.  That's craft.

Secondly, Verity was a story I'd never read before.  Female pilots, women captured behind enemy lines, spies in German custody--all fresh to me.  There were parts that were familiar--Maddie's time spent hiding reminded me of the resistance fighters in the book Tamar, for example.  But there was so much that I knew nothing about, and that much was exciting.  Julie felt powerful, even when she was truly powerless. 

But Rose's story is at least close to ones I've read.  I don't want that to sound like a complaint--it's a powerful story and a poignant one.  But there are so many books and movies that have had parts of this story in it that it was not unfamiliar to me--the premise itself didn't surprise me. 

Enough with the complaints, though, because it was really so good.  I didn't know anything about the Rabbits (well, I knew the existence of Nazi medical "experiments," but not much about the victims), and I'd never met Rose, who was worth meeting.  And Lisette, and Karolina, and Roza, and Irena.  Each of them was so different from the others, each completely her own character, and all amazing in their own rights.  I loved Rose's poetry, which kind of surprised me in and of itself. 

Every character was trying to survive, but every one had moments of selflessness.  I won't say it was unbelievable in that--it's very believable, it's what you want to believe about the human spirit--but it was so exciting, so satisfying, to see everyone struggle for each other, keep each other alive, in spite of everything.

I loved Rose.  I loved her best, I think, in the Paris hotel room she inhabited after she left Ravensbruck, alone and frightened and finally safe, unable to figure out where she was or what was supposed to happen next.  I loved her in that moment, and I loved the maid who took care of her and all the lovely people Elizabeth Wein put in the world to make up for the horror.

No comments: