The Yellow Bird Sings – Jennifer Rosner

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner

A powerfully moving and utterly gripping debut novel about a mother and daughter forced into hiding at the height of WWII, and the bond between parent and child that can never be broken.

Poland, 1941. Roza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, are the only surviving Jews in their town. They spend day and night hidden in a neighbour’s barn. Forbidden from making a sound, only the yellow bird from her mother’s stories can sing the melodies Shira composes in her head.

Roza does all she can to take care of Shira and shield her from the horrors of the outside world. They play silent games and invent their own sign language. But then the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Roza must face an impossible choice: whether the best thing she can do for her daughter is keep her close by her side, or give her the chance to survive by letting her go...

I’ve read a lot of Holocaust material recently. It’s not something I did in the past as I felt I wasn’t up to the emotional trauma I knew it would cause me. The past few years I’ve been pushing boundaries and reading far more Holocaust books than I’ve ever read. This book hit me in the feels quite substantially.

In The Yellow Bird Sings we see a mother and daughter who are on the run from the Nazis. They have holed up in the loft of a barn and doing their best to stay still and quiet. While I was reading this I bore in mind another Holocaust book I read a few years ago, Zachor I Remember Will You, written by a friend. Reading that book made me wonder how people managed, how they kept quiet and how they kept occupied over so many days, weeks or even months. The Yellow Bird Sings partly answers some of these questions. With these answers I shall be forever in awe of anyone, at any time, who has had to stay quiet and still for such a long time.

This book raises more questions in my mind. The mother and daughter are separated. The daughter is sent to a convent, to safety, the mother heads off into the forest. We see how she survives. But the questions it raises for me is how long did people actually survive in the forests, either by themselves or in a group? The book shows that they would have had to dig holes to sleep in at night, in winter for warmth and year round for safety. The Nazis went through the forests checking for subversives and Jews, the author shows us that quite categorically in this book.

One thing I felt Rosner highlights in this book is how it is possible for families to stay connected even when they’ve been torn apart like this. The connection is rather tenuous but I feel it is there and music is the key in this family. Music that is played and taught seems to reverberate through this book and keeps the connection alive so that in the end there is a happy ending.

There is a little lacking in this book. I would have liked more of how both mother and daughter survived after the war. How they went about building up their lives from nothing. How they managed to have relationships after the trauma and how they somehow managed to get past that structural part of their lives where they hid in the loft, staying silent. One thing that went through my mind while reading is how having to hide like that must change one’s psyche. Would Shira, the daughter, manage to talk to people or would she be forever scarred by the experience? Although, including any of this would make the book completely different. It would not be the book it is if these things were included. Maybe a sequel would be best, a sequel showing them starting and building new lives.

I was given this book by the publisher. I receive no monetary gain from this, just the warm fuzzies from having read a book close to the release date without having paid for it. And the warm fuzzies from being able to provide feedback about the formatting issues I experienced reading it on my Kindle app. And because it was released this year I get to include it in my Dymocks Reading Challenge for 2020 under the Book Published This Year category.