What the Night Sings

illus. by Vesper Stamper. 272p. Knopf. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524700386.
RedReviewStarGr 7 Up—Fifteen-year-old Gerta Rausch did not know she was Jewish until the day she was picked up by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp. She lived in Germany with her musician father and was sheltered from the reality outside her home, spending all of her time training in viola and opera. Gerta's father reveals the truth as they are crammed into a train car. Gerta struggles to accept this news; she knows nothing of Jewish traditions and her only experience with her religion is tied up with hatred, abuse, and slaughter. Being allowed to play in orchestras keeps her alive in both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Although the narrative describes life before liberation, much of it focuses on the postwar experience: life in concentration camps—turned—"displaced persons camps," lingering hostility toward Jews, as well as the grueling journey many Jews made from Europe to Palestine. The illustration style and muted color palette work beautifully with the text, managing to communicate both despair and hope. The narrative is spare but powerful as it depicts the daily horrors of the camps and the struggle to survive, hold on to humanity and, once freed, understand how to live again.
VERDICT This powerful story is an excellent choice for any library.—Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, Oakland
This moving, beautifully illustrated novel begins with the 1945 liberation of Bergen-Belsen, when adolescent survivor Gerta is relocated to a displaced persons camp. The time Stamper spends on Gerta's postwar story, a somewhat unusual focus for a Holocaust novel, allows for thoughtful exploration of the particular challenges of rebuilding a life after the Holocaust's devastation. Gerta, still healing emotionally and physically, finds herself making decisions about her romantic, religious, and artistic future that seem startling in their speed. A long flashback gives context for the peculiar assortment of memories influencing her now: she grew up a promising musician and learned of her Jewish background and real last name (Rausch, not Richter) only when her father revealed the truth on the train to Theresienstadt. The flashback traces Gerta's experiences from the fear and starvation of the ghetto to the even more horrific conditions of Auschwitz-Birkenau (her father is immediately sent to his death; Gerta survives largely because her musical ability places her in the Women's Orchestra, where she is forced to serenade women and children on their walk to the gas chamber). Dreamlike prose and digitally toned black-and-white illustrations in ink wash, white gouache, and graphite, ranging from spot art to spacious full-bleed wordless spreads, combine with thick, creamy paper to create a volume with the feel of an art object. Back matter includes an author's note about Stamper's inspiration and her research visits to concentration camps, a glossary, a map, and resources. shoshana flax

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