Rosner’s debut novel is a World War II story with a Room-like twist, one that also deftly examines the ways in which art and imagination can sustain us.
Five-year-old Shira is a prodigy. She hears entire musical passages in her head, which “take shape and pulse through her, quiet at first, then building in intensity and growing louder.” But making sounds is something Shira is not permitted to do. She and her mother, Róża, are Jews who are hiding in a barn in German-occupied Poland. Soldiers have shot Róża’s husband and dragged her parents away, and after a narrow escape, mother and daughter cower in a hayloft day and night, relying on the farmer and his wife to keep them safe from neighbors and passing patrols. The wife sneaks Shira outside for fresh air; the husband visits Róża late at night in the hayloft to exact his price. To keep Shira occupied and quiet the rest of the time, Róża spins tales of a little girl and a yellow bird in an enchanted but silent garden menaced by giants; only the bird is allowed to sing. But when Róża is offered a chance to hide Shira in an orphanage, she must weigh her daughter’s safety against her desire to keep the girl close. Rosner builds the tension as the novel progresses, wisely moving the action out of the barn before the premise grows tired or repetitive. This is a Holocaust novel, but it’s also an effective work of suspense, and Rosner’s understanding of how art plays a role in our lives, even at the worst of times, is impressive.
A mother and her child-prodigy daughter struggle to survive the Holocaust by telling stories and remembering the power of music.