Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: Irena's Children

Irena’s Children
by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Why did you choose this book? WWII history!
When did you read this book? September 2016
Who should read this book? Readers of WWII history and the female heroes of the war  
Source: NetGalley
Here is a synopsis of Irena’s Children from Goodreads

One of Kirkus Reviews' Ten Most Anticipated Nonfiction Books of Fall 2016

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquotcomes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.

In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While there, she reached out to the trapped Jewish families, going from door to door and asking the parents to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling them out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings.

But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept secret lists buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On them were the names and true identities of those Jewish children, recorded with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. She could not have known that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.

In Irena’s Children, Tilar Mazzeo tells the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust—a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.

My Review

My eye was drawn to the cover of this book while browsing NetGalley one day. When I saw it is a story of WWII featuring a woman, and nonfiction, I knew I wanted to read it!

Irena Sendler was a true hero of WWII, saving at least 2500 children from the Nazis. And yet she went unrecognized, and even villainized, for much of her life! I learned from the book how Poland was victimized not only by Hitler and the Nazis during WWII, but also by the Soviets who ‘rescued’ them near the end of the war. The Soviets buried the story of Irena’s heroism for decades. Even after receiving recognition, Irena did not consider herself a hero, or even extraordinary, but instead felt regret over the lives of the children she was not able to save.

One thing I really admire about Irena is that she never blamed anyone who made choices different from the choices she made. She knew how difficult and dangerous life was under the Nazis and she experienced torture by the Nazis, so she knew how difficult it was to refrain from giving up information, and was able to excuse those who were not willing to put the lives of their families in danger to help her cause. (She did not, however excuse those who she felt betrayed Poland to work with the Nazis.)

The author did extensive research about Irena and drew on that research to write very readable nonfiction. The book got a little confusing to me at times because there were so many people involved and sometimes the names were very similar, but the author foresaw this issue and included a ‘cast of characters’ at the end of the book. This not only was helpful to me for referring to while reading, but also served as a nice review after I finished the book. I appreciate that in the author’s notes she explains how she used research materials to write the story and makes clear that some of what she has written may be open to interpretation, and that others may draw a different conclusion. She has also notes and a bibliography for those who want to learn more.

If you enjoy learning about history, want to know more about the role of Poland in WWII, or admire strong women, this is a book you will want to read!

You can watch the book trailer for Irena’s Children below.

Visit the book’s page on the pubisher’s website to view an interview with the author, read an excerpt, see discussion questions, or learn more about the author.

My Rating:  ✰✰✰✰✰   5 Stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book for review purposes.
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  1. I loved this book but I was a little confused by it as well. In addition to the large cast of characters, I was also confused by the writing style. It seemed like the author was trying to create suspense as to whether Irena survived while also talking about her experience as only someone could after surviving it. Overall though, I thought it was a great read and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it too!

  2. It's interesting that you would mention the writing style, Katie. I can't say I felt like the author was purposely trying to create suspense, though at times I did wonder where Irena survived. As you mentioned though, the interviews implied that she did. I almost felt that the writing was...I'm not sure what I want to say...not exactly 'childish' but not really well-developed, maybe? I know at a couple of points I felt like I was reading a translation; like maybe the book has originally been written in another language and translated to English. But I saw nothing to make me think this was not a new book written in English, and after a bit I became accustomed to the writing and didn't really notice it like I did at the beginning.

  3. It sounds like it would be a heart-tugging story to read.