The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

the red ribbonTitle: The Red Ribbon

Author: Lucy Addlington

Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hotkey/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might all have been friends together. This was Birchwood. For readers of The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as readers may recognise it. Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive. Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration with her captors, or is it a means of staying alive? Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose? One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.

~*~

Set during the final months and years of the Second World War, Ella has been whisked away off the streets to the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, known in the novel as Birchwood. Here, she is set to working, making clothes for the guards and the Commandant and his family. Here, she learns to make patterns, to choose the right colours for people, and together with Rose, the storyteller, whose fairy-tale optimism keeps the girls going during the darkest of days, dreams of the dress shop they will own one day in the City of Lights – Paris. Ella’s way of describing her world Them, Guards – Nazis, and Stripeys – those in the concentration camp – is both innocent and sobering. It is a child’s view of this world she now inhabits, a world where she is not immune to the brutality surrounding her. It is Ella’s perspective that gives the novel the powerful impact it needs to have, to remind us of what has happened in the past, and to prevent the same thing happening again.

To escape the horrors of the camp, Ella finds her solace in sewing and designing clothes, a skill that she knows she will use when she gets out – but in a place where it seems nobody will ever leave, she begins to wonder if she will ever achieve her dream, or if it’s just a way to comfort herself through the long, dark days. It is not a comfortable novel to read, and nor should it be. Any novel that delves into the darker depths of human history and humanity should not be a comfortable or easy read. What this novel shows is that we should never forget, but also that the human spirit’s capacity to push on through adversity and survive, even when we think we can’t go on.

The Red Ribbon is one of those novels that stays with you and haunts you. It is not one to shy away from the gritty reality that Ella lives in. Instead, the gritty reality is shown, and the horrors communicated through Ella’s eyes as she fights to stay alive and then fights to find freedom. It is a novel to be read alongside the history books, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and stories of resistance against the regime, as portrayed in The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, Reading these books together will give a more human view of the Holocaust than we get from history books – a human face put to those affected, to those caught up in what was going and to those actively trying to resist. Lucy has captured the history and experiences eloquently, and sensitively, ensuring that the careful research she did has been communicated in an effective and informative way to readers, and giving them a chance to explore the history behind the story in her notes at the end of the novel. it is one that I hope to read again at some stage, because it is important that we keep reading these stories to never forget, and to prevent it happening again during our own lifetimes.

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Title: The Beast’s Garden

the beasts gardenAuthor: Kate Forsyth

Publisher: Random House

Category: Fiction

Pages: 512

Available formats: Print

Publication Date: 3/8/15

Synopsis:

‘Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true nature to the world …’ 
A retelling of the Grimms’ Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany.

It’s August 1939 in Germany, and Ava’s world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler’s spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.
Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.

Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance and Ava finds herself living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo’s hang in the balance.
Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Beauty and The Beast’, is a beautiful, compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.

Kate Forsyth weaves fairy tales into history again in her latest offering, The Beast’s Garden. Set in Germany in The Second World War, Ava is thrust into a world of horrors under the Nazi regime. Her world begins to fall apart the Night of The Broken Glass, and as her best friend and father are arrested. To save her father, she weds a Nazi Officer, Leo von Löwenstein. Ava’s horror at the Nazi regime inspires her to join an underground resistance movement, helping the victims, yet hiding this double life from her husband.

As she realises Leo is part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and Berlin is bombed indiscriminately into rubble. Ava is forced to live in the rubble, hand to mouth as the Gestapo hunts down any and all resistance to the regime plaguing Germany.

Kate Forsyth set the Grimm brothers tale, “The Singing, Springing Lark” against this dark period in history. We bear witness to these atrocities through the eyes of Ava, starting when she is nineteen and the fear and danger she encounters trying to help her friends and family, to keep them safe.

The underground resistance Ava joins is peppered with real life figures that fought the Nazi regime, who defied Hitler and who would stand their ground to the death to bring about peace in Germany. Figures such as Libertas Schulze-Boysen and her husband, the Abwher and other figures involved in the Valkyrie plot, and resistance movements such as The Red Orchestra, the movement Libertas and her husband, Harro, were a part of are present in the novel, and though the interactions between these characters and Ava, and the Gestapo, the Goebbels and Mildred Harnack, the only American woman executed by the Nazi regime, add an authenticity to the novel, placing it in the time and place effectively.

The style and substance of the narrative marries perfectly with the history behind it, and the pacing is set so well, that as a reader, one is swept away into action and fear, love and family, and at some stages, an uneasy sense of something being over yet something just as horrible, just as traumatising just around the corner. The climatic end of the book has even pacing, and keeps the reader turning the page until the finale, the peace and sorrow that comes from war.

I thoroughly enjoyed the integration of fairy tale, history and imagination in this latest offering from Kate Forsyth. An engrossing read, it was one that I didn’t want to end yet couldn’t wait to see what happened.