Review: The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner

“Women, children are the biggest victims of war…” while rightly said by many, it is a debatable phrase. Not to make light of the sacrifices of the soldiers (mostly men) who fight on the frontlines but there is an undeniable trail of collateral damage in every army’s wake. It’s the other side of the metaphorical coin of war and this is the side shown in Rosner’s debut novel.

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner is my last book for the #PanMacHistoricalReadthon hosted by Pan MacMillan India. It’s a beautiful and heart-breaking story of a Jewish mother-daughter duo from Poland in 1941 – during World War 2. It’s covers their harrowing journey from 1941 till 1965, and makes an account of their suffering, their hope, their sacrifices and most importantly their unconditional love.

As Doris Weatherford wrote, “War holds many ironies, and among them is its liberating effect on women.” But war also results in the special degradation of women, often as victims of sexual violence. The Yellow Bird Sings shares an account of the horrible sacrifices made by the mother – Roza to fend for herself and her child Shira.

When Roza’s husband and parents are killed by the Nazi troops, her daughter and she somehow manage to escape from their hometown. After running many miles and hiding for many days, she finds a barn and chooses to hide in the hay stacks there. When discovered by the family that owns the barn, they are allowed to stay there for two nights and no more. Of course, Roza and her 5-year old daughter Shira have to stay incognito the whole time. She creates simple hand gestures which her daughter can identify and use when they’re required to remain completely silent. Like any small child, Shira is quite restless which is a constant source of fear for her mother who has kept many of the harsh truths hidden from her in an attempt to leave the child’s innocence untarnished. Music is one of the many bonds between the two and Shira happens to be a prodigious child in that field. Shira has grown up around folks who love music, her grandfather would make violin, her mother and father would occasionally play it. It’s cathartic to realize that music truly is one thing that helps people in the hardest of times.

The story trudges through numerous heart-wrenching incidents and made me cry more than once. I even felt like putting the book down at one point of time, but the sheer strength and love shown by Roza for life and her daughter kept me going. There comes a point when Roza must send Shira away to give her a better chance at life and I felt the air leave my lungs in that moment. The ending too is bittersweet, but that’s what war is like right? You never know what’s waiting on the other side, even when the war has come to a supposed end.

I undoubtedly give this book 4 out of 5 bookmarks! Though this book made me cry and I’d probably re-read it at some point again, I wasn’t satisfied by the symbolism of the yellow bird with which the story ends. I yearned to read more on Shira’s and Roza’s reunion after over 20 years, as they must’ve yearned to see each other then. That said, I’d still highly recommend this book to read. If you’re interested in the narratives based around World War 2, go ahead read it. If you’re interested in music, go ahead and read it. But most of all, read it because it’s a story worth reading.

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