you all. I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.
genre: historical fiction
synopsis: a retelling of the story of esther
setting: theresienstadt concentration camp in czechoslovakia (modern-day czechia) in 1944
what i loved: this was a book i loved so much in part because of when i read it. the main character struggles with her faith, which i have been with mine, so i could identify with her anger and sense of being forsaken. but as her faith grows, i began to feel mine come back a little; i remembered that God’s silence does not mean His absence, and i reminded myself something as foundational as my faith in God must surely be that for which i fight fiercely.
as the book went on, i also became increasingly invested in the lives of the two main characters, so much so that toward the end, when the action had peaked and the tension was highest, i found myself reading faster because i was NOT going to bed without knowing how it ended. and once the action fell, as the characters are coming to terms with everything, there was a moment that suspended my breath. and when that moment concluded, the loosing of tension was such a relief that i cried.
those of you who know me well know that i am not a crier, and even to this day there is only one book that has made me put down the book so i could flat-out sob. this was the closest i’ve come since to crying that hard over a book – and that, to me, says a lot.
what i didn’t like: one of the subplots felt forced to me, and i think it’s because it follows the story of esther so closely here without really advancing this story.
what i appreciated: i also had a hard time reading about how the characters – major and minor – collaborate with or in some cases embrace the nazis’ extermination of jews. even studying the holocaust, as i did formally in school and informally ever since, i had a hard time understanding how the jewish elders on the judenraten in the ghettoes could regularly turn over names of people to send to the death camps, how the jews who worked as sonderkommando in the camps could usher their own families, neighbors, countrymen into the crematoria, collect their belongings, sweep out their ashes.
but would i do the same, were i in their place? if it meant my life, for even a little longer, would i not be found with the same desperation?
you see one character in particular really wrestle with that struggle, and i appreciated how well breslin made that internal tension so real.
i also appreciated that the characters who struggle with their collaboration also find the strength and courage for acts of small courage. like benjamin mee says in we bought a zoo, sometimes you need twenty seconds of insane courage – twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. it’s this struggle of collaboration and resistance that really fleshes the characters out and makes them true to the historical people who actually lived these tensions.
trigger warnings: unwanted advances toward women. also, breslin does not mince words about the horrors of the holocaust. theresienstadt may not have been a death camp, but it like all the camps was horrifying in its depravity.
final thoughts: this book is heavy. it explores flaws and redemption, the holocaust, responsibility, complicity, hope, the desires to live, to resist, to fight. breslin’s characters are true to life, though not easy at first to understand. it engaged my heart and my mind, pondering ethics, empathizing with the characters. it was a fantastic read, and is the latest book i’ve read that i can now call a favorite.
d is for denmark: i am following up this fictional action of resistance in the camps with a nonfictional account of the danish resistance. when the germans overran denmark in 1940, winston churchill remarked that denmark would become hitler’s canary.
unbeknownst to churchill and hitler alike, that sweet lil canary would soon unsheathe wickedly sharp claws.