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The Song of the Stork by Stephen Collishaw - Review

Friday, March 4, 2022

Okay, so, I don't generally read books about the Holocaust that are written by people who aren't Jewish, because I think they're taking away the voices of Jewish writers (who are a minority) and also I think a lot of them are really exploitative. Like ones where Jewish campmates fall in love with Nazi soldiers? You can miss me entirely with those. The Jewish people lived in fear of their lives so any relationship entered into wouldn't be consensual, to say the least. I'm actually quite disturbed by the new fashion for Holocaust literature because it just seems to use something as tragic as the Holocaust and exploit it. 

(I will also say that while I'm speaking about Jewish people above, it equally goes for LGBTQ+ people, Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people, and anyone else who was put to death in the camps. As I write this, petitions are flying around to try to get Netflix to take down Jimmy Carr's latest comedy special, which included a frankly horrific "joke" about the deaths of GRT people in the death camps.)

So, with that caveat, I will say, I wouldn't have chosen this book for myself. But I got sent it, so I picked it up. And I have to say, I felt like it was very well researched and didn't feel exploitative. That goes in its favour. But it also needed a good proofread and copy edit, which did bring my star rating down.

Apparently it's set in Lithuania, which I didn't realise because everyone in it speaks Polish to each other - was Lithuania part of Poland at that point? I don't know. 

Anyway, Yael arrives at a small farm in the autumn of 1942, I think. She has been travelling with a woman called Rivka. Yael is only fifteen. They are Jewish, and on the run from where they lived, and have been hiding in the woods. Rivka dies, and as the winter draws in, Yael seeks shelter in the henhouse of the farm. It belongs to a man called Aleksei, who is mute, and who is a lot older than Yael. He realises she is there, and eventually invites her in to the farm house. She is able to bathe, and sleeps on the floor. Eventually she and Aleksei start a relationship (which I found really icky, taking another star off my score) but of course there is always the threat of the Nazis arriving and finding her, plus the threat of the Russians coming from the other side. Eventually Yael has to take off and join the partisans in the woods. 

I liked Yael a lot and I liked a lot of what happened to her. It was interesting to see a book set in the Holocaust which wasn't set in the death camps, but in an ordinary part of the countryside, but still with the threats of death. However, for the reasons stated above, I'm only giving it three out of five. 

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