Burakowski’s debut novel, based on her mother’s Holocaust experiences, describes a prominent Polish family’s desperate struggle to endure.
As the Nazi threat looms, patriarch Leib Gold attempts to secure a safe hiding place for his family. Leib leaves his wife, Hanna, and the children, Shoshana, Esther, and David, promising to meet the next day. Hanna never sees him again. Money and Shoshana’s fair complexion and fluent Polish help Hanna keep the rest of the family intact and alive, albeit just barely, until the Russian Army liberates Poland. Too much history is ponderously presented at the book’s outset, impeding the story and preventing development of the characters. Indeed, it takes a good third of the book to get to the gripping story of the desperate 26 months, beginning in November 1942, that the four Golds spend hiding in the annex of a barn where they are unable to stand erect. Dependent on the avariciousness of unethical Poles, crawling through sewers, living in filth, infested with lice, toileting with no privacy, fearsomely hungry, fearing death: both risks and the boredom are well-conveyed. The book concludes with a short chapter describing their post-liberation lives. Appended is a glossary of German, Polish, and Yiddish words, as well as photos of the family and the barn, which should help stir empathy.
Readers who persevere will discover an affirmation of human courage. (Historical fiction. 14-18)