Title: The Yellow Bird Sings
Author: Jennifer Rosner
Published: February 25th 2020
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
Poland, 1941. After the Jews in their town are rounded up, Róza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, spend day and night hidden in a farmer’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.
Róza 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 Róza must face an impossible choice: whether to keep her daughter close by her side, or give her the chance to survive by letting her go . . .
The Yellow Bird Sings is a powerfully gripping and deeply moving novel about the unbreakable bond between parent and child and the triumph of humanity and hope in even the darkest circumstances.
‘They’ve lost every real thing real except each other.’
The Yellow Bird Sings is a story of familial love, heartbreaking choices, endurance, mental resilience and the brevity of music. Jennifer Rosner’s debut historical fiction title is set in the depths of one of our worst moments in history, World War II Poland. This moving novel sees a mother and daughter take shelter from the horrors of the Holocaust, only to be separated in their attempts to beat the odds and overcome this tragic ordeal.
The Yellow Bird Sings is situated in Poland, in the year 1941. A perilous time and place, the chances of survival if you were a Jew were slim. For Róza and her young daughter Shira, the safety of a farmer’s barn is their only hope of surviving this dangerous time. Day by day mother and daughter are plunged in a world of silence. To get through the long days and nights, Shira is consumed by her natural infinity with musical stories, as they distract her from the terrible world at large. Róza, like any mother, protects her child with every ounce of strength she has. From gentle stories, quiet games and codes, the days go by for Róza and Shira. But when their hiding place is no longer deemed safe, separation is imminent. Jennifer Rosner’s novel is a touching and affecting novel, charting the strength of familial bonds and the human will to survive.
A convincing and heartfelt letter of appeal to the reader that was inserted in my review copy of The Yellow Bird Sings, from Francesca Main, an Associate Publisher at Picador. I’m glad I took the time to peruse this letter prior to opening The Yellow Bird Sings. It provided me with a strong case to read this book and I was able to understand a bit more about the process of creating this novel. What stood out for me personally was the amount of research that the author conducted to compile her debut novel. I understand from the reader letter that a hefty amount of research was undertaken by the author, in the form of first hand travel to the book’s locations. Rosner also conducted a number of interviews with those that lived through this time and survived to tell their tale. This has formed the very backbone of the novel. It cannot be denied that The Yellow Bird Sings is defined by strong storytelling. The writing is stark at times, but deeply resonant, amazing for a debut writer. I was able to make my way through this startling title in just an afternoon.
Much of The Yellow Bird Sings is centered on the dynamics and relationship between the focus mother of this tale, along with her daughter Shira. This is a loving relationship and a unique bond is felt between the two, which is compromised by the strains felt by their hidden existence in the barn. Little games, musical sequences and sign language fill their days. It is hard to imagine how they managed to survive each day and keep their sanity in check. It really is a test to both their mental capacity and physical spirit. I found the barn sequences of the novel compelling and full of tension. Shira and Róza are well rendered characters. Rosner lays them both clearly out for the reader. The supporting cast are also carefully considered.
Róza’s young daughter is a musical genius in the making and we see this through various stages of her life marked out in the text. From the first glimmers of natural talent in the barn, through to Shira’s natural connection to musical instruments and her musical future as the book closes brings this talented musical alumni to our full attention. Music gently flows through all facets of this book, it works as an overlay, conducting and defining many of the key events of the novel. We learn that music has played a significant role in Shira’s family and her origins. Shira’s future is also tied up in the power of music. For those who are musical, or simply appreciate the sheer brevity of music to transform even the most dire of situations, will be sure to connect to Rosner’s composition.
There are many themes prevalent in Rosner’s novel. Music is a driving force in The Yellow Bird Sings. This novel also encompasses themes of survival, danger, safety, the human condition, family relationships, strength, endurance, pain, resilience, sacrifice, protection, choices, deception, imagination, storytelling, identity and aspiration. Each theme is touched on with a high level of perception and sensitivity. Over forty seven chapters and four parts, The Yellow Bird Sings takes a tumultuous journey from 1941 to 1965. I did feel there were some gaps in between this time that could possibly have been explored. I had a few questions, but I understand this may have resulted in an overly long novel. Perhaps we are made to consider these aspects for ourselves and make our own conclusions. The ending of this book was incredibly moving and once it takes full flight, you will be in awe of what just happened.
With so many novels charting the difficult waters of World War II and the Holocaust, The Yellow Bird Sings is a book that diverts from mainstream offerings in this crowded genre. Jennifer Rosner’s debut quietly worms its way into your existence, leaving a lasting reminder of the power of familial love, hope and the desire to live. The Yellow Bird Sings is one to add to your must read list if you’re partial to an alternative presentation of the World War II experience.
‘After the longest silence, she wishes for her music to reach as high as the heavens, as far as the sea.’
The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner was published on 25th February 2020 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Yellow Bird Sings, Jennifer Rosner, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.