29 December 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, Book review

  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (September 10, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1423183099


While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that's in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Here are my thoughts:

I have read countless books about WW2 and concentration camps survivors drawing me to 'remember' , something that was instilled in me from the moment I understood its meaning. 
But Elizabeth Wein's description of an all American girl whose father taught her to fly at age 12, now an ATA  sent to Britain to ferry planes captured my imagination! 
The author's own love of flying is evident as she brings her aeronautical skills in her plotline, giving to Rose a unique view of a world gone asunder!

Rose Justice is a happy high school graduate who spent her summers at the lake with her friends and has no combat experience. When she is apprehended over enemy territory and forced to land at a remote Luftwaffe airport, she stuns German ground crew when she emerges in her uniformed skirt, removes her helmet and goggles revealing her long hair!
This is September 1944 and the Allies are advancing through France and Belgium pushing back an ever more desperate German army. 

For Rose however war has only started when she is transported to Ravenbruck, a women's concentration camp in northern Germany. 
Elizabeth Wein's flowing prose allows her readers to go from admiration (Rose is an amazing pilot for her tender 18 years) to shock (deported to a concentration camp so close to the end of the war) to even a laugh or two (when she arrives and the first thing she notices is holes in her nylons!) 
Never mind the fact that even in a concentration camp, God is present!

A fictional account of the 6 months the young ATA spent in the camp Rose Under Fire is perhaps the most riveting WW2 novel I have read partly because I could never imagine a Pennsylvania Dutch Lutheran girl, a mere slip of a girl, a lover of poetry with no combat experience being sent there in the first place!

Elizabeth Wein pens a stark but lucid plot around Rosie and the unforgettable friendships she strikes with her fellow inmates, especially those known as Rabbits. These women of various backgrounds are slowly exterminated by the SS yet they fight with all their might for just another day to live and pass on the message: Tell the world!!

Written as flashbacks, Rose and her comrades plight is in turn desperate, humorous, tender and never to be forgotten. These were not Jews but women and mere children, resistances fighters, pilots and students, Russian, French, Pole, Czesks, even German and Jehovah Witnesses. 
Perhaps the most startling of all is that all this happened as the Allies were making progress and liberation was weeks away!
Interspersed are poems of Edna St Vincent Millay and those Rose writes for the other inmates (my favourite - see excerpt below):

 'Love Song and Self Portrait' (by Rose Justice)

At first I dreamed of you
offered warm arms of comfort and strength
And if I did come back,
what in turn could I offer to you,
I would offer you myself
in mismatched shoes and blood soaked rags,
shaved scalp all scabs
and face gone gray,
no old woman but a walking ghost
on a skeleton's frame-
And you would be forced to look away.

There won't be anything to say.

In the inset the title of the book is highlighted against the names of the Ravenbruck's Rabbits...
Never to be forgotten

You might not enjoy every truth spoken here but you should know the author has done a splendid job in giving a voice to those who were thus silenced. Her impeccable research reminds us that there is still much we need to acknowledge if we ever hope to bring the truth to light!

Spawning a time frame betwixt August 1944 to December 1946, this heartbreaking yet beautiful story in all its raw humanity is well worth 5 stars
It is a tale of hope in the darkest hellish hole made by men and a lesson in courage!

(Albeit a library loan, a copy is soon joining favourites on my shelves!) 
(Photo source Here)

Note: Suitable for older teens and adults due to thematic contents!

Meet Elizabeth Wein:

"I was born in New York City in 1964, and moved to England when I was 3. I started school there. We lived practically in the shadow of Alderley Edge, the setting for several of Alan Garner's books and for my own first book The Winter Prince; that landscape, and Garner's books, have been a lifelong influence on me.
My father, who worked for the New York City Board of Education for most of his life, was sent to England to do teacher training at what is now Manchester Metropolitan University. 

I met my future husband at a bell ringers' dinner-dance. He is English, and in 1995 I moved to England with him, and then to Scotland in 2000.

We share another unusual interest--flying in small planes. My husband got his private pilot's license in 1993 and I got mine ten years later. Together we have flown in the States from Kalamazoo to New Hampshire; in Kenya we've flown from Nairobi to Malindi, on the coast, and also all over southern England. Alone, most of my flying has been in eastern Scotland."

Visit Elizabeth Wein's website (HERE)

Note to Readers: This was a library loan and all opinions are solely mine!


  1. Oh my gosh-- this book sounds incredible-- you've written such a great review! Truly-- I'm getting this book tonight-- it's going to be my next read!!

    So nice to hear from you- thanks for your visit and this review!

    1. Thank you Vicki! Elizabeth Wein is an amazing storyteller and she gets an A+ for her research!
      Happy New Year!

  2. What a perfect read for you, my friend! I can tell how fully immersed your were as you read Elizabeth Wein's novel.
    I am here to wish you and your family a wonderful Christmastime and the best of God's blessings for the new year ahead! I am so pleased to have made acquaintance in 2013!

    1. I was impressed by her writing style, that is true but it is the unusual angle ( in particular the pilot's eye for details in the telling of an ATA caught in a concentration camp!) which had me hooked from the beginning!
      Blessings to you and yours in 2014 as well and thank you for stopping by!

  3. Hi Noelle,

    At first I thought the photo of the writer was one of you :-) The book sounds like a good read. I will keep it in mind. Have four more to read before I can start on a new one :-)

    A Happy New Year to you and your family!

    Madelief x

    1. It is and I hope you will tuck the title in your memory Madelief for future reading!
      Blessings Dear,

    2. I only wish I had such a splendid head of hair!

  4. I will definitely be making a note of this one. I like the setting very much and even though the camps have been spoken of innumerable times, each story seems to be a new one in the struggle for survival.

    1. What was amazing was the concept Mystica and I hope you will give it a try!

  5. Another good book to put on my reading list. I rely on the library for most of my books and have a nice big stack right now! Happy New year my friend! Here's hoping we share lots of good books...and happy times in the year to come!

    1. I'll admit my book budget has definitively been reduced by the economy and without the library I would be sorely depressed!
      Life without books is like life without chocolate...not to be undertaken!
      Happy reading Diane and a great 2014!

  6. Great review! I loved Code Name Verity, so I was thrilled when my husband got this for me for my birthday. I definitely plan to read it soon, and probably pass it on to my daughter. I made her read Code Name Verity when I was done, and she loved it, too. Happy New Year!

  7. I have added Code Name Verity to my list Anna (if it is anything like this one, a winner to be sure!)


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