Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

When I first heard about Rose Under Fire, I wasn't sure I was going to actually read it. Like so many reviews floating around have said, and Iris said so well, I have WWII fatigue. I thought Code Name Verity was a rare one off...the world war 2 book I still managed to fall for, feel deeply, and love.

But circumstances led to me reading it after all and I quickly became engaged with the story and ended up loving it. This is not a sequel to Code Name Verity, although Maddie is present, it's Rose's story. Rose is an American pilot who has something unfortunate happen to her on a flight which leads to her spending some time at a concentration camp. There she meets women who change her life and as much as this story is about survival, and World War II, it's also about close friendships and what we mean to each other.

I want to first discuss a few things I think Rose Under Fire does really well and then I want to discuss why that's important to me in light of some of the grumbling I've seen in other reviews. (this is why I should never read other reviews first, it makes me reactionary!)

One of the things Wein skillfully does is show pre-camp naive Rose who can barely believe the war is real vs. post-Camp Rose who has survived the worst humanity can do. She also writes these friendships in a very believable way...these women were surviving together and knew each other in ways human are rarely supposed to. There's a part where Rose talks about how you can love them so much but they also drive you crazy. She also shows the chaos of the organization, there's just no sure thing in war, nothing you can bank on. Even though things should go a certain way it doesn't mean they will. And even with limited resources people have a tremendous capacity to be cruel. And lastly, something Ana has already written about better than I ever could (as is usually the case!), is that Rose Under Fire is about how there are different ways to survive and just because society might expect one reaction or path, it doesn't mean you have to take it.

So I think Rose Under Fire is many things and a very good book.

Now I've seen some criticism? about how this book is a tired story of a privileged girl who falls into bad times. Wouldn't it be more interesting or better if someone else had narrated this same story? I'm not disagreeing with the idea that there might be an overabundance of stories like this, and yes I know this is fiction but I am always uncomfortable with the idea that there are ever too many stories. The idea of there being too many Holocaust stories is one I've heard before but I just can't agree because not every story is for every person, etc.

Secondly, there's a reason privileged protagonists exist and part of that reason is the feeling that "it could never happen to me." But when the protagonist is someone you can identify with closely, it's easier to begin to believe that it could. One of my absolute favorite parts of My Hands Came Away Red is when Cori is just stunned that people are trying to kill them and she has no comprehension of how people could be trying to hurt her, WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO. Part of what makes these stories effective is that terrible things happen to everyone, war happens to everyone, being rich, white, American won't save you.

Now, obviously that's not to say that I don't think stories about girls from underprivileged backgrounds aren't needed, they are! I just think Rose Under Fire has a lot to offer that is unique and relevant, that it actually stands apart from the crowd for reasons of its own.

In very general terms, I do agree with the idea about fatigue over World War II stories from an American/European perspective. I crave more stories about the war in Asia, for example. And I hope to bring some reading suggestions on that topic, soon!

Anyway, really great book, recommended!


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