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Rose Under Fire review

rose under fireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

June 2013, Electric Monkey

Book jacket blurb:

I can write again. Oh God! All those months of not being able to write! Of not being allowed to write. Knowing I’d be shot if I were caught. It seems like I have been a prisoner for so long.

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels vividly alive while flying, she is forced to confront the hidden atrocities of war – and the most fearsome.


The world of  a Nazi concentration camp for women is not a particularly nice one to be immersed in. So for a writer to capture it with such clarity and also fill it with such real and warm characters to the point where you almost mourn the ending of the book is a real achievement.

The book jacket blurb of Rose Under Fire doesn’t give much away, but I don’t think I will be spoiling things too much if I tell you that this is a story about a girl called Rose who ends up in a concentration camp, because that is revealed pretty near the start. There she meets the ‘Rabbits’, a transportation of girls from Poland who have had their legs experimented on by the Nazis. They adopt her as one of their own, and what unfolds is a story of survival against all odds – and of the endurance of hope, friendship and human compassion in the face of adversity. You can’t help feeling that Rose is out of place at Ravensbrück. She wasn’t really supposed to be flying in France in the first place, and she is a prisoner of war, so by rights shouldn’t be in a concentration camp at all. She is an American – not a Jew or a Pole or a communist, or any of the other groups marked out by the Nazis to be rounded up. But then none of the girls should be in there really, and that’s the point – what happens to them shouldn’t happen to anybody.

I have so much to say about this exquisitely written book, which has really left its mark on me, but I will restrict myself to telling you just three things I loved about it.

First up is our narrator, Rose. We go on a journey with her, from naivety and innocence to knowing more about death, loss and suffering than any girl should. At the beginning she is exuberant, ardent, maybe a little idealistic, yet practical, with an enquiring mind. When she ends up in the camp, she doesn’t wallow in self-pity – she meets the challenges of her situation with real strength of character. But at the same time, what makes her real and vulnerable is that at her lowest points she does have a good old cry and says how awful it is.

Secondly, this is the first book I have read that combines first person narrative with poetry written by the narrator. Rose’s poems capture moments in a way that prose can’t. They could stand up alone as poems in their own right, but they are all the more rich when read in the context of the book. As a writer, Rose has this desperate need to articulate what is happening to her, and her poetry plays a huge role in her survival: it buys her friendship, and it’s her poems and stories that rally the other girls’ spirits when they literally have nothing else left.

The third thing is that, even in the face of so much suffering and death (and be warned, parts of this book are harrowing, made worse by the uneasy knowledge that these things have actually happened to real people), through Rose’s voice there was so much life and raw resilience. From Rose’s red-painted toenails to the personalised stockings smuggled across the camp as a message from a friend, it’s all the little things that keep the girls going.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, but do have a pack of tissues on hand when you read it!

Thank you to Electric Monkey for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Like the sound of Rose Under Fire? Elizabeth Wein also wrote the Carnegie Award shortlisted Code Name Verity, about a young spy who is captured by the Gestapo.code name verity

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