Rose Under Fire is billed as a companion novel to Wein’s popular and award-winning World War II story, Code Name Verity. It’s not really a sequel, but it does take place after the events in Code Name Verity and some of the same characters do make an appearance, particularly Maddie, Queenie/Verity’s best friend. However, this new book is really about 18-year old American pilot, Rose Justice, who joins the British Air Transport Auxiliary in order to help end the war. The story takes place in England, France, and later, Germany, as Rose’s flying assignments take her closer and closer to danger and destruction.
Rose Under Fire may not please all of the fans of Code Name Verity because it’s not as psychologically suspenseful as Code Name Verity is. However, Rose Under Fire is a fascinating look at an aspect of the Holocaust and the concentration camps that I didn’t know much, if anything, about. After a series of misadventures, Rose ends up incarcerated in Ravensbruck, the infamous German death camp. It’s 1946, and the war is coming to an end. However, the Germans are determined to fight to the bitter end, and those who have been committing atrocities in Ravensbruck and elsewhere are making every effort to cover their tracks and maintain order before the Allies liberate the camps.
Part of the cover-up involves silencing those who can bear witness to the worst of the atrocities. Rose, who becomes an accidental witness to some of Ravensbruck’s most horrific secrets, is charged by the other women prisoners to survive and tell the world about the things she sees and learns while she is imprisoned.
While I was reading Rose Under Fire, I was reminded of Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. (I highly recommend both the book and the movie.) I thought perhaps that reminder was because Wein’s book takes place in Ravensbruck, the same prison camp where Corrie and her sister Betsy were held. However, it turns out that there is more to the echo than just a common setting. Ms. Wein lists The Hiding Place in her bibliography at the end of her book, and I found the following information in an article online:
“. . . at age eight, she (Elizabeth Wein) first encountered information about concentration camps, in a comic book adaptation of Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. She read the book itself a few years later, and then drew her own illustrated version of Boom’s memoir about hiding Jews from the Nazis at the family’s watch shop in Holland. ‘I was obsessed with her story, frankly,’ Wein says. ‘Something about how they managed to maintain hope resonated with me.’ ~Publishers Weekly
I was reminded of The Hiding Place because Ms. Wein did her research well. The Ravensbruck in Rose Under Fire is the real Ravensbruck, the same horrible place that is shown in Corrie Ten Boom’s memoir and testimony to God’s grace and mercy. Rose Under Fire isn’t a religious or “Christian” book at all, but there are touches of grace: a motherly prisoner who always prays before allowing her brood their daily crumbs of bread, another prisoner who gives her life in Rose’s place, and Rose herself who receives supernatural strength to endure unspeakable suffering. Rose is a poet as well as an aviator, and in her poems (Elizabeth Wein’s poems) she writes about suffering and hope and redemption.
I was reminded of Corrie Ten Boom’s famous statement of faith and courage: “No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still; with Jesus even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.”
And there’s the admonition of Elie Weisel, who said, like so many other Holocaust survivors say: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
Rose Under Fire, though it’s fiction, is a true witness to the depravity of man and the tenacity of hope, sure to get a Cybils nomination in the YA fiction category.
An interview with Elizabeth Wein at Playing by the Book.