Monday, July 14, 2008

Book Review: Briar Rose

I seem to be continuing my theme of Holocaust literature this past year, without any conscious intent. Jane Yolen's Briar Rose (1992) is the story of a granddaughter's search for her grandmother's mysterious past. For all of her life, Becca and her sisters have heard only one story from their grandmother, Gemma: the story of Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose), told with a haunting twist. After Gemma dies, Becca is determined to find the true meaning behind the fairytale.

Her search takes her to Poland and the gruesome extermination camp Chelmo. This is when the story gets good. Horrifying and painful, but well written. The first half of the novel was frankly somewhat annoying. Sandwiched in between interesting chapters about Gemma were seemingly insignificant chapters that featured catty fighting and nitpicking between Becca and her two flat, stereotypical sisters--both present day and in flashbacks. I have no idea why Yolen included this meaningless subplot. It was a huge distraction to me. I wish she's concentrated more fully on developing the characters of Becca and her grandmother. There is probably some "wicked stepsister" allusion here, but it was not effective.

But if you can get past that, the story itself is good. The experiences described at Chelmo and with the partisan fighters outside the camp added a new dimension of the Holocaust experience for me.

Another review of Briar Rose: Natasha at Maw Books.
Other Holocaust-themed books reviewed here: I Have Lived a Thousand Years (Livia Bitton-Jackson), Night (Elie Wiesel), The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak), The Nazi Officer's Wife (Edith Hahn Beer), The Endless Steppe (Esther Hautzig).


Anonymous said...

Once it went back into time and recounted the grandmother's story it did feel like a completely different book. I thought she did an outstanding job with the story of sleeping beauty and applying it into the Holocaust. Like you I've been reading a ton of Holocaust books. I can't stop myself.

Jill said...

This sounds like an interesting book! Have you read "Skeletons at the Feast" by Chris Bohjalian yet? It also deals with the Holocaust as well as the exodus of a Prussian family (away from the Russian army). It was a good book - here's my review if you're interested:

Take care!

Literary Feline said...

Except for the drawback you mentioned, this does sound like an interesting book to read. I find myself drawn to books about the Holocaust. I'll have to give this one a look. Great review.

Justin Hamm said...

During graduate school, I did a close study of Holocaust literature for young adults. One of the books I read was Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic. It was quite good.

But my experience with Holocaust literature was really difficult. I read probably forty books over the course of a summer--every night I fell asleep with images of the Holocaust in my head. Needless to say, I had nightmares. I was also very depressed and irritable. I completed almost no writing of my own that summer, either. I didn't talk a lot about it with anyone else, but I really felt very pessimistic about humankind.

Since then I've been unwilling to revisit any Holocaust literature. Its horrors are permanently etched into my brain, and I'm probably a bit different as a person for having had that reading experience, but I wouldn't want to go through it again.

Anonymous said...

I read this book this summer not even knowing it was going to be a holocaust book (I prefer not to read the back cover!). But I felt the same way, Gemma's story was wonderful, but the random family problems and wannabe boyfriend didn't seem to flow well.