Monday, January 6, 2014

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

American ATA pilot Rose Justice is flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England for repairs when she is captured by the Nazis.  She is sent to Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp where women have been used like rats for medical experimentation.

This was a companion book to Code Name Verity.  It picks up not long after the events of Code Name Verity, in 1945.  It focuses on a new character, Rose, but Rose works for the same Air Transport Auxiliary organization that Julie did and where Maddie still is.

I had some issues with Code Name Verity, mainly the framing device.  I just couldn't buy into it, and while I thought it was great how it all came together, I never really got into it because I found the whole premise completely improbable.  I was worried it would be the same with this one.  The book blurb tells us that Rose is captured and sent to a concentration camp.  I was worried that Rose was actually going to be journaling from the camp!  But she was not.  The diary starts before she's captured, and after she escapes uses her journal to tell her story.

There were a couple instances that took me out of the story and didn't seem to fit in with the terrible realism the story was showing.  The dramatic sacrifice one of the girls makes for Rose, for example.  Rose's number is called and she knows that means she's going to sent to be gassed.  This happened to other girls before, and they were hidden, which is what happens for Rose.  But this time, for some reason, another girl has to sacrifice herself by wearing Rose's number.  Why didn't they cause confusion, like the other times they hid people?  Why didn't they just let the count come out wrong, like the other times?  It seemed like that scene was just there so Rose would feel the weight of someone else's death personally.

The escape was also kind of overly dramatic and unlikely, with Rose and Irina stealing a plane and dragging Roza aboard and crash landing in Belgium.  It would have been more realistic if they had hidden in the outer camp and waited until it was liberated by the Soviets.

Despite that, it was well done.  And it looked at a camp that doesn't often get a lot of attention, Ravensbruck.  This is probably because Ravensbruck wasn't actually a death camp, but a work camp, but was also where experimentation of prisoners went on.  The conditions of the camp were horrifying, as is the story of the Ravensbruck "rabbits," the women who were experimented on.

Something that Rose struggles with afterwards is her promise to tell the other girls' stories.  She wants to, but she's afraid.  She doesn't know how to make people understand what went on there.  The things that she saw, and the things that she did herself, no regular person could ever, ever possibly understand.  She promised to tell the world, but she can't even tell her closest friends.  

Rose finds her strength when she attends the Doctors' Trials in Nuremberg and sees her friends testifying against the people that did the terrible things to them.

Those who liked Code Name Verity will love that they can find out what happens to Maddie, as well as continuing on with the story that takes them through the end of the war.  Rose Under Fire stands well on it's own, and is a great recommendation for lovers of historical fiction.

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