Join me as I celebrate the release (tomorrow, May 4th) of The Woman With The Blue Star by Pam Jenoff. This was a sad and bittersweet story, but I couldn’t stop reading from the moment I started. Scroll down for my review and a Q&A from the author.
The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff, Narrated by Jennifer Jill Araya, Emily Lawrence & Nancy Peterson
Published May 4, 2021 by Park Row, Harlequin Audio
Fiction / Historical / Jewish
336 pages (Trade Paperback), 12 hours and 20 minutes (Audiobook)
About the Book: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of courage and unlikely friendship during World War II.
1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.
Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.
Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pam Jenoff’s latest WWII novel is set in Poland. In the prologue there is a woman in her 70s who has traveled to Kraków to find some information to finally put together her story. She is trying to get up the courage to speak to another woman, a 90 year old lady sitting in the cafe. Although this sounds like it will be a dual timeline story, it is not. The prologue and the epilogue bookend this story with the present, but the rest transports us back to wartime and the friendship that develops between Sadie Gault and Ella Stepanek.
The story opens in 1942, with eighteen year old Sadie living in the Kraków ghetto with her parents. She looks a lot younger than 18, so her parents do not have her register to work. While the adults are away, the Nazis swoop in to find and take the children. Sadie hides and is safe, but many others were taken, never to be seen again. As this happens more often, Sadie’s parents decide they need to leave the ghetto and go into hiding, just as the Germans are rounding up all the residents so they can close the ghetto. They head to the sewers, her father, her pregnant mother, herself and a devout Jewish family, the Rosenbergs. A sewer worker and friend of her fathers, Pawel, is their only link to the outside world. He brings them food and news until the day he doesn’t come back. Ella Stepanek is dealing with a lot. Her father joined the Polish Army and never came back. Her stepmother is partying and collaborating with the Nazis. She tells Ella it is to keep them safe and provide them with what they need, but Ella is sick about it. She also loses all her friends because of her stepmother’s actions. She is in the market one day, when Sadie just happens to look up and their eyes meet. Ella begins helping Sadie and they become friends, Sadie hanging around the market grate during the day is extremely dangerous for both of them, it only takes one person to notice something and alert the Germans.
This is a story based on true stories of Jewish people living in sewers during WWII, although the story itself is fiction. They were desperate for somewhere to hide from the Germans and not be sent to the concentration camps. I can not fathom what the Jewish people went through during this time to try and survive, some of them still being found. The characters in this story are well developed and elicited many emotions. These are characters who will be with me for a long time to come. I know when I pick up a Pam Jenoff book that it will be well-researched and extremely heartfelt. I read a lot of books involving WWII, and I am always looking for a new POV, one that shows me a new piece of what happened, and this one did just that. This is a story about survival in a horrendous place, sacrifice, the good and the evil of human behaviour, friendship, hope, and love. I recommend this book to those who read Historical Fiction, specifically WWII stories.
I did a read/listen of The Woman with the Blue Star and enjoyed both formats. The audiobook was narrated by Jennifer Jill Araya, Emily Lawrence & Nancy Peterson. I always enjoy books that have a team of narrators as they can give characters a unique voice. This book was extremely well done with the expression, tone and inflection depicting the emotions of the time and situation. I recommend either the audiobook or the physical book. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book upon request. The rating and opinions shared are my own.
Q & A with Pam Jenoff
- Why did you decide to write this story?
While looking for an idea for my next book, I discovered the incredible story of a group of Jewish people who had hidden from the Nazis by living for many months in the sewers of Lvov, Poland. I was struck by the horrific circumstances which they endured, as well as their ingenuity and resilience in surviving there. I was also moved by the selflessness of those who helped them, most notably a sewer worker, and by their search for human connection in such a dark and isolated place.
After twenty-five years of working with World War II and the Holocaust, I find a story that makes me gasp, I know I am onto something that will make my readers feel the same way. This was certainly the case with the true inspiration for The Woman With The Blue Star.
- How much research went into your story?
Immersing myself in the world where my story is set, whether the circus in The Orphan’s Tale or the sewer in The Woman With The Blue Star, is always one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of beginning a book. I had so many questions: What did the sewer look and feel like? How was it possible to eat and sleep and even see in the dark underground space? Fortunately, there was an excellent non-fiction book, In The Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall, that explained so much of it. I learned that there were so many dangers beyond getting caught by the Germans, from drowning to floods. Every day was a battle for survival.
When I decided to move the story to Krakow, Poland (where I had lived for several years), I planned a research trip there. Those plans were scuttled by the pandemic, but I am lucky enough to still have good friends there who put me in touch with experts on the sewer and the city to help me (hopefully) get it right.
- What takeaway message do you hope readers get from your book?
Sadie and Ella, two women from completely different worlds, form a deep bond that has profound and lasting consequences. I hope readers will see in them the ways in which we can transcend our differences and connect. I also hope readers recognize the ways in which reaching out to someone, even in the smallest or most fleeting way, can have a tremendous impact on that person’s life as well as his or her own.
- Which character is most like you and why?
In this book, I suppose I relate to Sadie because her sense of isolation in some ways reflects what we have all felt during this pandemic.
- Readers can’t get enough of WWII stories. Why the interest?
Personally, m love for the World War II era comes from the years I spent working in Krakow, Poland as a diplomat for the State Department. During that time. I worked on Holocaust issues and became very close to the surviving Jewish community in a way that deeply moved and changed me. More globally, I think World War II has great resonance for authors and readers. There is a drive to capture and tell stories from survivors now while we still have a chance. There is also a great deal of archival material that became available to authors as researchers after the Cold War ended that provides new ideas for books. And as an author, my goal is to take my reader and put her or him in the shoes of my protagonist so she or he asks, “What would I have done?” World War II, with its dire circumstances and stark choices, is incredibly fertile ground for storytelling.
- Your stories are always Jewish related. What is the universal idea that captures readers of all backgrounds?
I would not describe my stories as “always Jewish related” but rather predominantly set around World War II and the Holocaust. This era is not only important in its own right but has many uniersal themes regarding human rights, prejudice and hate that are very relevant for our times.
- Where do your stories come from?
I do research for new ideas and I am generally looking for two things. First, I would like to take a true bit of history and illuminate it so that readers can learn. Second, I am looking for an incredible, untold story. I have worked with World War II and the Holocaust for twenty-five years and if I find an idea that makes me gasp with surprise, I’m hopeful readers will feel the same way.
- Do you work from an outline or do you write from the seat of your pants?
Well, I’m a “pantser” and that means I write by the seat of my pants and not from an outline, at least most of the time. So I don’t have a neat idea of where the book will wind up. I have an opening image and some general idea of where I will wind up and if I am lucky there are one or two high moments that I can see along the way, like lighthouses to guide me. But I am sometimes surprised by the end and that was certainly the case with The Woman With The Blue Star. That moment when you realize it is all going to come together is just one of the best feelings ever.
- Do you have any specific writing rituals, such as a certain pen, drink, outfit, etc?
I find that my writing routine has evolved over the years. For example, at one point I went in to my office to write, at another I went to a coffeeshop, now sometimes I am on the couch. I have written in castles and mountain getaways, but I have also written in my doctor’s waiting room and in my car. There are certain constants, though. I love the early morning and I would write from five to seven every day if I had the chance. I just love getting that first burst in before the day gets hectic. I am a short burst writer, which means I have no stamina. If you give me eight hours in a day, I don’t know what to do with that. I would much rather have an hour seven days per week. And as much caffeine as possible!
- Is there anything about you or your work that you’d like to share with readers?
I consider my books that are set around World War II and the Holocaust to be love songs to the people who lived through that most horrific period. I try to approach it with a great deal of respect and do them justice. On a very different note, I’d like to share that I always love connecting with readers. I invite each reader to find me online – through my website, Facebook author page, Twitter, Instagram or wherever they are hanging out.
Wow, thanks to all the bloggers who submitted great questions to Pam Jenoff and to Pam for her wonderful answers.
About the Author: Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the NYT bestseller The Orphan’s Tale. She holds a degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her JD from UPenn. Her novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and 3 children near Philadelphia, where she teaches law.
Mailing List: https://pamjenoff.com/mailing-list/