THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR
By: Pam Jenoff
Narrated by: Jennifer Jill Araya, Emily Lawrence, and Nancy Peterson
Published: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Park Row
Sadie, a young woman in Kraków, Poland, and her family have been living in the Ghettos ever since Hitler decided that the Jews were no longer worthy members of society. During a raid in 1942, Sadie chooses to hide in a trunk in their apartment. When her parents return from work, they thought Sadie had been taken like the other children and family members. After the raid, Sadie’s parents knew they were no longer safe and paid a man to help them hide together…in the sewers below the city.
“I curled into a tiny ball and wrapped my arms around myself, feeling the white armband with the blue star on my sleeve that all Jews were required to wear.“
It took me several times to read this book. I received this book prior to publication and was excited to read another novel by the talented historical fiction author, Pam Jenoff. But, I have difficulty with small, dark spaces and struggled with reading this novel, especially at night. So, I tried reading it during the daytime and would still find myself struggling with the feeling of the room closing in around me. So, I set the story aside, and then I had the idea to try it on audio after I noticed that Libby had acquired it. I just had to wait my turn. It was still difficult at times to listen to Sadie and her family’s life in the sewer tunnels, but when I found it difficult I just stopped listening for a bit. However, the story was so compelling I still read it in less than a week. I’m only sharing this because, for one, I am so late in reviewing it, but also because sometimes a different format can make a difference in your reading experience and I am glad I gave this one another attempt.
Ella a non-practicing Christian, also lives in Kraków but with a much more affluent lifestyle. She lives with her stepmother after her father was killed in the war. Her stepmother chooses to consort with the German officers in Sadie’s childhood home and she can’t stand to be around them. One day while walking in the market, she spots a young woman below the grate in the city tunnels. She can’t believe what she is seeing and decides to befriend her. Sadie and Ella couldn’t be more different, but as the war strengthens in Poland, Ella is determined to help Sadie and the others hiding in the sewer.
Life as you can imagine is beyond horrible in the sewers for Sadie and her family as well as the Rosenbergs who are also hiding with them. Sadie and Saul Rosenberg find ways to make the days more enjoyable by traveling to the reading annex they created in the tunnels and using the moonlight to read together. Their time in the sewer isn’t without tragedy and Sadie isn’t sure it is worth it to continue to go on. Her relationship with Ella strengthens and once their lives are in danger, Ella must do everything she can to save them.
“Anything is manageable if you can stay with the ones you love.”
The story is told in alternating chapters from Sadie and Ella’s points of view. This writing style keeps the pace of the story moving as we get the story from both perspectives. You want to keep reading to find out what happened when we last left Sadie and vice versa. I found the setting of Poland to be unique as the Jews there couldn’t fathom what was happening to their fellow Jewish friends and family. The horrors were so close, yet they had no time to react or learn what was happening. I appreciated the setting which made the danger even more severe to Sadie and to Ella rather than putting this in more common WWII settings of Germany, Paris, or London. Reading Jenoff’s bio will also help readers understand the “why” of her setting. This particular novel was based on the true story of a small group of Jews that lived in the sewers of Lviv, Poland. You can read their story in the book, IN THE SEWERS OF LVOV by Robert Marshall.
As I was nearing the end of the book, I couldn’t imagine it ending and was struggling with my emotions as I listened to the narrator. Then, Jenoff throws a small twist that will surprise you and make you want to reread the last few chapters again. Even though the ending isn’t completely happy, really what WWII story ever is, I was satisfied and completely surprised by the closure she created for the characters and the reader. This is my third novel by Pam Jenoff and I highly recommend her if you love historical fiction. Be sure to check out her newest novel, CODE NAME SAPPHIRE, scheduled to be published in February 2023.
Pam Jenoff has quite a history before becoming a prolific historical fiction author. Pam was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.
Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as the preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.
Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff practiced law at a large firm and in-house for several years. She now teaches law school at Rutgers.