I recently finished another very short novel that I received from my fiancé’s father about a month ago. My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick is a novel that I had seen advertised many times on public transit and that looked quite intriguing to me. It chronicles, in a fictitious manner, the true story of a woman named Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter Helena who hid and saved two Jewish families and one German soldier during WWII. They lived in Sokal, Poland at the time and the novel uses the narration of Helena as well as three of the hidden men to document the trials and tribulations of this small makeshift “family”.
The subject matter of this very short (only 188 pages) story is very interesting and poignant. It is fascinating to learn of the strength and bravery of these women. I have read many accounts of the Second World War, especially in high school, but I had never heard of these two women, and so I was gratified to learn their story. I believe this would be an excellent novel to teach in late elementary school (around grade 7 or 8) or in high school history classes as it really does give an important and memorable insight into the lives of those who were directly affected by the horrors of WWII. It could easily be taught alongside The Diary of Anne Frank.
Having said that, the only objection I have to this novel is how simplistically it is written. The prose is extremely straightforward and simple, and it really does feel as though the story is told for a younger audience. While the novel does explain many details of the subjects’ daily lives, it is told in such a generic manner and absolutely no real internal monologue is provided. Events are documented in almost journalistic fashion, and even when Helena discusses her love for her eventual husband Casmir and her devastation over the death of her brother Damian, there is a noticeable void of emotion and sentimentality. The facts are reported and stated, but there is no opportunity to delve into how any of the narrators feel.
I am conflicted about this story. I felt that I learned a great deal throughout my reading, but the writing style was not at all memorable to me. It was choppy and too bland at times, although the events that occurred were very significant. If I compare this to other stories I’ve read about the war, such as Night by Elie Wiesel, I find that this story will leave a bit less of an impact on me, but only because there was no emotional content that really tugged at my heart.
I would definitely recommend that people read this book to gain greater knowledge about the events of WWII, but they should approach it as they would a newspaper article or documentary, with little expectation of character development.
❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart