Monday, September 2, 2019

Someday We Will Fly - Rachel DeWoskin

Summary: Warsaw, Poland. The year is 1940 and Lillia is 15 when her mother, Alenka, disappears and her father flees with Lillia and her younger sister, Naomi, to Shanghai, one of the few places that will accept Jews without visas. There they struggle to make a life; they have no money, there is little work, no decent place to live, a culture that doesn't understand them. And always the worry about Alenka. How will she find them? Is she still alive? 

Meanwhile Lillia is growing up, trying to care for Naomi, whose development is frighteningly slow, in part from malnourishment. Lillia finds an outlet for her artistic talent by making puppets, remembering the happy days in Warsaw when they were circus performers. She attends school sporadically, makes friends with Wei, a Chinese boy, and finds work as a performer at a "gentlemen's club" without her father's knowledge.

But meanwhile the conflict grows more intense as the Americans declare war and the Japanese force the Americans in Shanghai into camps. More bombing, more death. Can they survive, caught in the crossfire? (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  This book surprised me a lot. I consider myself as somewhat well-versed in WWII and the history of it. I don’t know everything (and I certainly can’t label all the different planes used in both the Pacific theater and in Europe, like my grandpa), but I feel like I’m not clueless. There has been some absolutely stellar historical fiction that has come out in the past several years about WWII and if you haven’t read any of it, then you are sorely missing out. However, as an educated and intelligent reader of this blog, I’m sure that you have. That all being said, I was not aware of the events depicted in this book—namely, that many Jews fled to Shanghai because they could go without a visa. I mean, how did I not know this? There were Americans there, too, but in the end they were actually put in camps. However, the Jews survived there, although it was really difficult. I just…I’m really glad I read this book because I feel like it is something I didn’t know anything about.

When I first picked up this book, I thought I would be reading about a family of Jewish circus performers. I thought that would be the thing. This does play a huge part, especially for the daughter and main character, Lillia. But really, the story is about this family trying to survive in a country where the culture is so different from theirs and they are forced to take any kind of work just to live. It’s also about the camaraderie and love that come from good people living in difficult situations—they take care of one another, they watch out for one another, and they become a family.

As with all WWII stories, this book is difficult and really sad. There are innumerable losses, and even when sometimes those losses turn out not to be an actual loss, per se, things can never be the same. People die unexpectedly and tragically, they disappear unexpectedly and tragically, and the whole world struggles. Since I haven’t read about Jews in Shanghai I wasn’t aware of the difficulties that the Chinese government imposed on them, as well as the cultural struggles between the Jews and the Chinese, as well as the Americans and other foreigners living in Shanghai.

I enjoyed the story in this book, but I especially liked that everything wasn’t neatly tied in a bow at the end, just like in real life. Although there were many characters I would have liked to know more about, I felt that the author did a good job of creating a story that included many facets of this very difficult and delicate situation.

Sometimes I get tired of reading WWII fiction; the only reason I can give is that sometimes it’s just too hard to read about the struggles and difficulties. I know some people that pretty much only read historical fiction, however. No matter what camp you are in, I think this is a good book to read, if only to give you a perspective on a part of WWII history that I feel is under-covered. In order to round out your knowledge about what was going on, and to get a better picture of how the war affected people who weren’t even in the war, books like this give a much-needed change from the normal literature in the genre.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: As with many WWII books, this has some very difficult descriptions of violence as well as trauma inflicted upon Jews and other sad casualties of war.

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