1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents amid the horrors of the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her parents seek refuge in the perilous sewers beneath the city.
Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. Longing for her fiancé, who has gone off to war, Ella wanders Kraków restlessly. While on an errand in the market, she glimpses something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl.
To be a Jew hiding from the Nazis during World War II Poland would be terrifying, but to be forced to hide in the sewers beneath a bustling city of 250,000 people would be beyond revolting. Can you imagine the stench of a roiling river of excrement? What little food you had and the clothing you wore would be tainted. There would be no fresh air, no hope, no joy. It would be claustrophobic and cold. You would have no idea what was occurring on the streets above you. The sense of despair must have been unimaginable. Yet, some survived despite their circumstances.
Such is the backdrop of The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff, to date, her most highly rated novel on Goodreads. With each WWII book I read, I learn something new. In this case, I didn’t know that different countries/regions used different versions of a “Jewish Star.” I didn’t know people were so desperate they hid in sewers for years at a time. Her characterization was splendid, as was the revulsion of those who lived underground. The heroic actions of the Poles who rescued them reminded me of the good in humanity.
Although the plot was appropriately intense, it was just too much. Too tragic, too melodramatic, and too redundant. 4 stars.
Genre: Historical fiction
Read-alikes: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter