by Leslie Farin
This month’s recommendation from Great Thoughts, Great Readers:
The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel
Pam Janoff’s new novel, The Women with the Blue Star, tells a story of devotion and self-sacrifice between two young Polish women as WWII rages on around them.
Though similar in age, the two female heroines could not be more different. Sadie Gault is an 18-year-old Jew forced into hiding in a sewer below the street, while Ella Stepanek, a Christian, lives a comfortable life above ground in Kraków. They meet one day when Ella, out buying flowers, looks down to see Sadie hiding beneath the sewer grate. Ella lives with her stepmother who sides with the occupying Germans, but still, she decides to help Sadie. This brave decision becomes increasingly dangerous as the war continues. The two women develop a close, albeit unlikely, friendship, but the complex situation tests them in the face of overwhelming odds.
Differing Perspectives on War and Life
Sadie and Ella narrate the story in alternating chapters throughout the book. Each of these main characters describes their day-to-day lives, the people with whom they interact, and their growing friendship in vivid detail.
The liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto by the Nazis is the reason eighteen-year-old Sadie goes into hiding with her parents and another family. They appreciate the kindness of the man who arranged their escape, however, the living conditions in the sewer are horrific. Sadie’s father drowns in the rough waters early on, leaving Sadie and her pregnant mother to try to survive as best they could in the filthy underground shelter. Jenoff provides incredible descriptions of their unimaginable circumstances, and I intensely felt the fear, panic, and horror of their lives right along with them.
Ella, in contrast, appears to have everything. In reality, she’s an extremely lonely and unhappy soul. Her family situation is difficult, her friends no longer associate with her due to her stepmother’s activities and her fiancé has gone off to war. She walks the streets in misery until one day she finds Sadie, which seems to provide her with a purpose.
One misstep could mean both their lives, but Sadie and Ella risk everything for each other. They depend on each other for survival.
Glimpses of Normalcy
During the course of the story, Sadie falls in love with a young man also hiding in the sewer, and Ella’s fiancé returns to Krakow. Nothing is easy in a world crippled by war, but Jenoff brings some “normalcy” into the relationship between the two women with casual conversation, good-natured teasing, and a girl talking about love and life. These moments remind us these two friends experience thoughts and feelings similar to many young women from different walks of life. They are ordinary people living in extraordinary times and coping the best they can.
I read this book in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic. The virus spread relentlessly throughout 2020 and into 2021, wreaking havoc worldwide. It affected people from all walks of life; no one was exempt, though some suffered more than others. However, while it’s true life was extremely difficult for many during the seemingly endless months of the lockdown, it did not compare to the darkness of WWII as some people suggest. For me, Jenoff’s story put the Covid19 situation in perspective, helping me to better cope with the challenges I encountered during the pandemic.
The Bottom Line
The Woman with the Blue Star provides an inspiring account of extraordinary strength and the will to survive in impossible circumstances. It is fiction but based on a true story. As a voracious reader of WWII novels, I appreciate the thoroughly and accurately researched details provided throughout; Jenoff is a master of historical fiction. Despite the difficult subject matter, this compelling tale of loyalty, friendship and resilience during the war is both inspiring and uplifting. I was engaged from beginning to end, enthralled with the mystery, suspense and unexpected ending. I highly recommend The Woman with the Blue Star.
About the Author: Pam Jenoff
Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the bestsellers The Orphan’s Tale and The Lost Girls of Paris, both of which spent multiple weeks on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, among others. She holds a degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her JD from UPenn. Her novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and 3 children near Philadelphia, where she teaches law. Learn more about Pam Jenoff .
About GREAT THOUGHTS, GREAT READERS founder, Andrea Peskind Katz
Andrea Peskind Katz runs Great Thoughts, Great Readers, a Book Salon presented via her private FB group where approximately 5000 prolific readers and authors interact. She also founded Greatthoughts.com, a lifestyle website blog focusing on Great Books and Great Travel. To quote Robert Frost, she created her “second act” career to “unite my avocation and my vocation”. After 20 years in high pressure sales, Andrea retired to spend time doing what she loves best: hanging with her family, reading good books