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Sunday, July 18, 2021

Review: The Woman with the Blue Star

Title: The Woman with the Blue Star
Author: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: 5th May 2021 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 336 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, World War II, cultural Poland

My Rating: 4 crowns


1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents amid the horrors of the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous sewers beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. Scorned by her friends and longing for her fiancé, who has gone off to war, Ella wanders Kraków restlessly. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by harrowing true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an emotional testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.

My Thoughts

‘Find the things that give you hope and cling to them. That is the only way we will make it through this war.’

‘The Woman with the Blue Star’ is inspired by a true story of a group of Jewish people who, in an effort to escape and survive Nazi persecution, lived in the sewers in Poland. For all my WWII reading I had not come across this and therefore, found it interesting to learn and try to appreciate the lengths people went to survive during these horrific times.

With a more YA vibe, I could see the benefit of a younger audience reading this realistic fiction from this time period. Two young girls who become friends through a grate above the sewer. This bond that they form (whilst difficult to realistically imagine) is the basis of the story. Herein lies the key to investing in this tale, suspend your thinking mind and just allow the fictional possibilities to unfold. I chose to focus on what life in a sewer must have been like or, for Ella, how living with a German collaborator must have felt. 

‘The whole city had carried on without us, not  seeming to notice that we were gone. The people above passed by me heedlessly. They could not possibly imagine that beneath their feet, we breathed and ate and slept. I couldn’t blame them; I certainly hadn’t given the world below a second thought when I lived above.’

The romance for both girls is more YA and tries to bring light to the darker side of events (the sewer romance has a real Anne Frank feel to it). The possibility of love in the face of such tragedy, is an effort to bring balance and a sense of purpose and meaning to the struggles that they faced. I would have felt more comfortable had the title of the book been, ‘The Girl with the Blue Star’ as their age and interactions are definitely on the younger side and I don’t believe it to be an adult tale. I also disappointingly found the ending to be convenient on a number of issues, all neatly (and somewhat unrealistically) tied up. 

If I appreciate that it is a tale for a younger audience, then I am more understanding of particular aspects of the tale. All up, it was fascinating to gain a fresh perspective on this well documented era with Polish Jews hiding in the sewer system, the extreme difficulties associated with that, in their fight for survival. 

‘Each day is a gift down here, tomorrow promised to no one.’

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This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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