I’m a sucker for fancy proses. You know, the ones that are really abstract and poetic? So I figured a book about a woman detained in a Nazi concentration camp was the perfect fit for that style of writing, but in the case of Rose Under Fire, I was wrong. The prose was so simple and straightforward that it completely took me off guard in the beginning, but ultimately it was the unfailing clarity of Rose’s voice that won me over.
It’s 1944. Rose Justice is an American ATA pilot, and devoted poet. She ferries Allie fighter pilots all around Europe, and despite the harsh hours, her job brings her a validating fulfillment. One day when ferrying a plane from Paris to England, she ends up in restricted territory and is captured by the Nazis. Sent to Ravensbrück, a woman’s concentration camp, Rose’s sheer resilience is tested over the limits. There she meets an array of women from numerous countries and different steps of life. Together they form a powerful bond that only strengthens through all the pain and torture they must endure. Ravensbrück brings out Rose’s most lethal weaknesses, but it also tests her vast capabilities for survival, and the results will shape her as a person.
Like I said before, I was so surprised with how simple the prose was. No complicated words, no intricate structures… Just words strategically placed in well-formed sentences. And now that I look back at the story, it wouldn’t have worked out any other way. Because reading this book felt so incredibly unforced and natural. Also, when the themes of a novel are as heavy as the ones in Rose Under Fire, to write the scenes with a clear purpose really expresses a high level of respect.
There weren’t any shortcuts taken in this book. Details were not elaborated to render less explicit. Suffering was not lightened to take away the sting; brutality was not weakened to avoid sensitivity. Was there luck involved in this book? Yes, of course there was. But it was real-life luck, the kind of luck that doesn’t forcefully shape the ideal future, the kind of luck that benefits one, hurts another. I guess I should have expected the things inflicted on the prisoners of Ravensbrück, but nevertheless they still created ripples of shock within me. Although, Wein wrote those scenes with such mastery that it managed to portray with justice the unimaginable torture those women had endured, while also honouring the weakened, but unbroken dignity within them.
Rose’s narrative reflected so well her personality. She always packed a punch in every sentence, but never exaggerated or embellished the situation she was in. She was also, a fair protagonist. She cried, she was selfish, she expressed adamantly her sufferings… she was a reasonable human being. As the story evolved, Rose did to, but her voice always remained true to herself. And in one way, that was very comforting. Because when I read passages depicting sheer horrors, Rose’s words were always there to help guide me, to help me feel that I did deserve to read those scenes stained with blood and scars.
Rose Under Fire is about a woman held prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. But it’s also about friendship, courage, tenacity, kindness when morals are the furthest of concern, and most of all, hope. Hope when you can smell your death in your meager ration of bread, when you can feel it prodding at your emaciated body… but you still, you still fight back.