Friday, September 5, 2008

Night of Flames


No matter how many versions of it you read, some stories always tend to have the effect on you. One such story is the gruesome story of the Holocaust and the states of Germany and countries surrounding it during World War II. My first encounter with this story was through the diary of a 13 year old young Jewish girl – yes, Anne Frank.  Since then, I have heard this story often… Various books, various authors, same story – Exodus by Leon Uris (The story of Jews fleeing from the Nazis in Europe and the birth of Israel), The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman (which is a non fiction about Jan and Antonia who save Jews from the Nazis and protect them by putting them in animal cages in the Warsaw zoo), Night by Elie Wiesel (an autobiographical account of a holocaust survivor  of his life in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps), The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (a best selling novel about a little German girl during World War II who befriends a Jewish man in the basement of her home) and finally Night of Flames by Douglas W Jacobson. The books are so similar… yet, so unique in their own way.

Night of Flames is a historical fiction about a young couple in Krakow, Poland – Anna and Jan and how their lives become entangled with the Polish and Belgian Resistance movements. Anna is a University professor in Krakow. Her husband Jan is a Polish Cavalryman. Jan is called to fight in the resistance against Germany’s attack on Poland. Meanwhile, Germans take over Krakow. All the intellectuals in Krakow are called for a meeting and they are arrested overnight and taken to Germany to be executed. Anna’s dad is one amongst the arrested professors. Anna is forced to flee from Poland with a Jewish friend and her son. Anna’s friend dies in the middle and only Anna and Justyn reach Belgium. There’s as the years go by, Anna gets slowly involved in the Belgian Resistance. Jan, on the other hand, gets deeply entangled with the Polish resistance.

Through Anna and Jan, we get to know the happenings of the Polish and Belgian resistances. They meet a lot of people in their journeys (Polish, German and Belgian) and we get to know about the holocaust from personal experiences of the people they meet. One part that I really liked was the part about Otto. When Anna is taken by a German officer, Otto (The officer’s chauffer) saves her from him. Otto was a guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp and we realize that he’s having a tough time dealing with what he saw there. That little incident really made me think. It is easy for us to say “cruel Germans” every time we think of the holocaust, but it is not like everyone involved in it did it because they wanted to do it… many, in fact, most did it because they had to!

And somehow, throughout the book, one message is really clear. In the middle of the war and executions and everything – people still survived. I think it is just two things that kept them going on – hope and trust. The trust that they had in each other is amazing. Especially at a time where one wrong word could kill you and all those around you, people trusted each other and friends and worked together for the resistance. And this was brought out over and over again in the book.

Many characters, many little stories embedded throughout the novel. The novel is not about Anna and Jan. It could have centered on Justyn, or Willy, or any of the other characters that we came across… because what Douglas really brought out was not a love story. It was the story of World War II in Europe.

I really enjoyed reading the book. If I had to, I would give it 3 stars out of five. It definitely wouldn’t come in the best books of the year list… but nevertheless, it was a good book and the fact that Douglas has researched so much to get this book out has to be definitely appreciated. Everytime I read about World War II, I learn so many new things. I am glad that there are authors who still write about it and keep the events from becoming just events in the history text books. I think it is essential that everyone knows what happened then, for the sole purpose of learning from history and making sure that things like that will never ever happen again.. 

If you have read this book, do let me know what you thought of it. If you have a review online then just send me the link and I’ll add it to this post!

 

8 comments:

Dar said...

I just love reading your reviews Ramya and again this one doesn't disappoint-you write wonderful reviews. I think it was Library Thing that I had put my name in for this book. I have always liked reading books about the war or the Holocaust. I know what you mean when rating these kinds of books because it's not so much that they're so good, it's the lesson they teach us.

Ramya said...

Thanks Dar! That's one of the best things anyone has ever told me!:) you totally made my day!
i got this one from Library Thing.. hoping i get one more book in my sept pick!:)
you know, at the risk of sounding morbid, i must say that i love books about the holocaust as well.. there's so much to learn from them about human values and sticking together in times of need.. sometimes i feel that we're losing the human-touch in society and i wonder how we'd react now if we had to face a calamity like that!

Dar said...

You couldn't have put that any better Ramya. I feel the same about today's society. It seems kindness and helping out in times of need or anytime have really fallen by the wayside and I think it's so sad. You're right, these kinds of books definitely make us take a harder look at things-in these situations people have to stick together and support each other however they can-it's the only way to survive. I wish people today realized the fragility of life-we take a lot for granted these days.

Ramya said...

i know! it is nice to know that you feel the exact same way!:)

Anna said...

I've always been fascinated by stories of the holocaust. It probably has to do with the fact that my mother's side of the family is from Germany. They were Germans who were not in support of Hitler. The Nazis killed my great grandfather. It's true that many many Germans were against Hitler, and it's sad that my mother and her family endured so much persecution when they immigrated to the U.S. in the 50s.

Anyway, I really just wanted to say great review, and I think I'll check this book out!

--Diary of an Eccentric

Ramya said...

@anna - that's so true. most of the books are written from an anti-germans perspective.. and i think that it is sad.. only while reading the part about Otto and how he hated being a guard in the concentration camp did i realize that germans would have hated what they were made to go through as well..do you know of any good books that was written to bring out the german perspective? i know that the book thief deals with it.. but something in more detail maybe?? let me know!

Anna said...

The Book Thief is the only one that came to mind. What a great book, btw. Anyway, if I come across another, I'll let you know!

--Diary of an Eccentric

Ramya said...

oh i know! i totally loved "The Book Thief" and have been making everyone read it!:) yep.. let me know if you come across a book on the german perspective..:)