As I have mentioned in previous reviews pertaining to and involving the Holocaust and WWII, the stories can often be hit or miss. I do mean that with all due respect as the topic itself is an important one. It is important and necessary for the history and stories to still be told. That being said, I had a hard time connecting with this particular story.
Short recap: This is the story of Gerta and her life during the war. Gerta is a viola player and but prefers to sing. When the war starts, she struggles to understand why she can no longer go to school and must be taught at home. Shortly after, Gerta and her father are sent to a concentration camp and Gerta still struggles to make sense of everything. She loses her father but manages to keep her viola, which happens to be her saving grace.
Gerta’s story was sad and full of heart ache. The girl lost her father and held on to what she knew to comfort her – music. She was forced to survive by any means necessary during one of the darkest times in World History. While those stories are still necessary, I had a hard time connecting to Gerta’s story. Why? I felt it was not a fluid story. It came across choppy, like an inconsistent thought. I wanted to know more about Gerta and her life during/after camp but instead, it was small sections of her life during those times and more on her trying to figure out where her life is going to go after the War ended. She spends a lot of time chasing Micah, a boy she has a crush on. She crushes on him for a while and is constantly pursued by Lev, a fellow Jewish boy who really likes Gerta. It is clear that Lev and Gerta want different things out of life but Gerta quickly changes her mind and does end up marrying Lev.
This was an somewhat interesting read but I felt it was rushed, and again, choppy. I didn’t like the inconstancy of Gerta’s character. I also was not a fan of, what felt like, a strong focus on romance. It felt like Gerta spent a lot of time trying to figure out who she was going to marry. She was constantly told by Lev what her place as a Jewish female was and it felt like she finally caved in and stayed with him. I may be completely mistaken and if I am, please tell me. I will always admit if I’m wrong.
This just did not feel like the story I expected. I’m not sorry I read it but I am still scratching my head at what I read.
One thought on “Review: What The Night Sings”
Hi Sara! I appreciate your honest review. I like hearing where readers are at, even if they have problems with the story. None of us can connect with every reader, but I wanted to dialogue with you a little about some of the issues you raise. Obviously I can’t respond to every review, but I saw yours on Twitter and thought I’d stop and say hi.
First of all, let me thank you for reading the book and writing a lengthy review. I really appreciate you taking the time.
You mention your desire to hear more about Gerta’s experience in the camps and felt it focused more on her questions of where to go after the war. This is precisely why I wrote the book. We thankfully have endless hours of first-person testimony of survivors–what a gift!–and many of their memoirs and historical fiction novels/movies which address that very history. For me, having grown up in a Jewish home that didn’t really talk about things like aftermath, I never even thought to ask about the “what next” aspect. So it was this curiosity which drove me–“survivors” aren’t only that one identity. Teens are still teens, whether they’ve been traumatized or not, and have to emerge into adulthood somehow; sometimes they make mistakes, sometimes not.
Second, you take issue with the romance. I want to assure you that this is a very true aspect to the history. You had tens of thousands of survivors in Belsen alone who had lost literally everyone they once loved. Shortly–very shortly–there was a flurry of marital activity. There are reasons for this; the major one is the human need not to be alone. There was a strong impulse to erase Hitler’s attempts by immediately having children. Survivors I spoke to told me of the very quick, and very young, marriages. With the average age of marriage in 2018 at 27, it’s easy for us to think ill of a 17-year old getting married; however, in 1945, it was under 20. This was not an attempt on my part to create a cheap romance just to make it YA-friendly–it’s intrinsic to the history.
Lastly, I want to encourage you to think about Gerta’s decision to marry Lev in a different way. Gerta is raised with a very definite paradigm which she alludes to–one in which women are both vocationally and sexually independent, like her stepmother. Her relationship with Michah begins to take her down that familiar path. But to Michah she is just a number, echoing her dehumanized experience in the camps. Lev, for all the awkwardness about their differences, is a friend who truly sees her for the person within Gerta, the one deeper than her labels, even her abilities. Far from giving herself over to an ideal of “Jewish wife”, she continues to push back against that idea even with her observant husband; however, out of love, she acquiesces to *try* learning a way of being that is different to her. Being married for 20 years myself, I can say that a marriage cannot survive without both parties seeing and calling out the very real person within each other (each other’s “hidden world”), but also building bridges of empathy to try to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. And don’t forget, as much as she takes a stab at lighting the Sabbath candles, Lev ultimately puts things in motion for her to attend conservatory and live her dream.
I hope this was helpful, and again, I really do appreciate you taking the time to read What the Night Sings and write your review. I’m so honored.