In children’s author Young’s first novel for adults, a Polish Jew in World War II Holland finds temporary safety in the Lebensborn, a maternity home the Nazis set up to breed Aryan babies.
Cyrla’s deceased mother was a Dutch Christian, and in the late 1930s Cyrla’s Jewish father sends her from Poland to live in Holland with her Christian aunt’s family. When the novel opens in 1941, Cyrla’s cousin and best friend, Annika, has fallen in love with a handsome young German officer, Karl, and become pregnant. To avoid disgrace she agrees to enter a nearby Lebensborn, but she commits suicide before she can go because Karl has refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy. By now Germans have begun rounding up Jews. Although distraught, Annika’s mother plots to save Cyrla by having her take Annika’s place at the Lebensborn. Cyrla goes to Isaac, the Jewish activist she’s been in love with for years. He claims he’s incapable of love but agrees to impregnate her, then arrange for her safe exodus. Eleven days later, a pregnant Cyrla—her easy fecundity is the novel’s first but not last credibility stretch—leaves for the Lebensborn though not before she is savagely (and gratuitously) raped by an SS soldier. In the Lebensborn, Cyrla carries on her charade as Annika while waiting to hear from Isaac. Then Karl shows up. It seems Annika never told him she was pregnant; he broke up with her first because he was already in love with Cyrla. Karl, who hates the Nazis, takes great risks to help Cyrla. Despite her initial distrust, she eventually acknowledges she loves him. Their far-fetched romance is at odds with the well-researched description of the Nazi maternity program, and although Young tries to avoid stereotyping, many of the supporting characters are two-dimensional at best.
Earnest but ultimately sentimental rather than profound.