Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Elizabeth Wein: Rose Under Fire

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 Ravensbrück, 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?

This book focuses on a bleak moment in history: life and death in Nazi concentration camps. The majority of the novel is written in diary format, with letters added in every now and then. The diary is written by Rose Justice, a pilot who recounts her terrible suffering at the hands of the Nazis at Ravensbrück concentration camp. As a whole, I'd say that the author manages to capture how disturbing life was for prisoners in these camps. The protagonist is made to suffer unspeakable horrors, but with the help of her 'rabbit' friends (prisoners used for medical experiments) she fights her hardest to survive.

While the events of the book ensure that the reader is taken on an emotional journey filled with ups and downs, I did not enjoy the narrative structure of the novel, and for that reason I can not give it a five star rating. The novel begins with Rose's diary entries before her capture and mainly describes her life as a pilot. I found it difficult to warm towards her character at first and I did not find her diary entries particularly exciting. While I admired her skill and courage as a pilot, particularly a female one (rare for the period),  I did not really appreciate her recklessness which I think is what really resulted in her being captured. The diary stops suddenly and is interrupted by several letters from Rose's friends and family, who are distraught with worry as she has gone MIA. While I understand that the sudden halt in a diary can be very harrowing, like The Diary of Anne Frank for example, I really don't think that it worked for this fictional novel. The diary entries start up again very quickly and we learn that time has passed by several months. The diary is then used to report the events of the things that happened to Rose during the gap in her diary. This is why I don't think the diary format is a good device to use; we learn early on that Rose survives her ordeal but don't actually learn about the ordeal until later. It's almost like there is an unavoidable spoiler within the story. I also think it would have been more harrowing and would have had more impact if we followed her first person narrative during the events rather than after them. At a lot of points throughout the diary some things are very general and because of this, I sometimes felt detached from what was happening to the character. The plot itself is a good one and enough happened to persuade me to read further. Unfortunately, it is the execution of the plot's presentation that weakens it. 

My other qualm is that it features a spoiler or two from Code Name Verity, which I have not yet finished reading. It is advisable that you read that book first before reading this one - not because this book won't be easy to understand, but because if you plan on reading Code Name Verity too then you will avoid the spoilers. I wish this information had been given to me before I started reading. 

The poetry for me, is the strongest point of this novel. Rose is not only a pilot but a poet and it is her poetry that keeps her sane and to a certain extent, alive. Now I'm not a big fan of poetry - as Sarah my fellower reviewer can confirm. I didn't struggle to grasp the meaning of the poetry and found it intriguing. It is the poetry that allowed me to connect more to the character than her actual diary entries. The poetry came from her heart and reflected both the horrors of what was happening around her, the stiff mechanics of the war and her human soul. 

Finally, Elizabeth Wein's general prose style is swift and not overly complex which makes it a fast read. If you enjoy quick, historical novels then this is the novel for you. If you are looking for something more like The Book Thief then this may disappoint. 

Rating: ***