Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

This is a companion book to Wein’s book Code Name Verity, which I loved, and which was one of several things that inspired me to take up flying. Apparently I’m not the only one to start taking lessons after reading it, but I’m the only one the author knows of who’s gone on to get my licence, and she was quite tickled over it.

Anyway, as a companion book, and not a true sequel, it has a different main character, and can be read without having read the previous one. There are a few recurring characters, and it takes place chronologically after Code Name Verity, but it contains minimal spoilers.

In this one, Rose is another ATA pilot, who gets intercepted over france and taken to germany. She ends up in one of the concentration camps, Ravensbruck.

The story begins with Rose writing down her story, much like Code Name Verity did. One of the weaknesses of that format is that you know the character is going to live. In the opening, she’s back in Paris, shortly after her escape. (This wasn’t the case in CNV, as the characters were writing things down more or less as they happened, and there was still uncertainty on their survivability.) The suspense still there was whether her friends escaped. These friends are people you haven’t met yet, but as the story goes on, you do, and then the reminder that the main character doesn’t know what happened to them or if they survived means more and more.

The description of the conditions in Ravensbruck are suitably horrifying. One of the things mentioned early on is the fact that the information coming out of the camps is so horrifying that western Europeans and Americans don’t believe it. They literally didn’t believe it. The stories about the women who were experimented on, the starvation, mass executions, etc. And the Nazis, of course, are trying to hide it, by killing these women they experimented on before the allies can rescue them.

Rose, as she writes, is suffering some pretty severe PTSD. In some ways it made it even harder to read than CNV because I get the PTSD. Maybe nowhere near as severe as Rose would have to have suffered from it, but I understand. I’ve been there, with the nightmares and the waking up not sure where I am, and the panic attacks when someone calls my name or opens the door, or pulls into the driveway. So I get why she’s reluctant to testify in the war crimes trials, which, reading other reviews, seems to be one of the things people have complained about being disappointed by.

Another thing that made me think as I read it, is having just finished the Hunger Games trilogy, and comparing it to Rose Under Fire. In the Hunger Games, Katniss’ suffering and mental breakdown gets a little tiresome and boring. So I had to think to figure out why that doesn’t happen in Rose Under Fire. Rose goes through likely more trauma, sees more death, than Katniss. Why is Rose not annoying in an endless train of poor me‘s? And I think it’s because Rose is constantly reminding herself that she’s not one of the women who got experimented on (the experiments had stopped before she was taken prisoner.) She has people around her who have suffered more and longer than she has, so a lot of her descriptions of suffering are not “poor me”, but poor them. The times when she’s so badly hurt she can’t actually do anything but lay there and feel sorry for herself are mostly glossed over.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It was cathartic.

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