Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author, Tara Lynn Masih, for an honest review.
Genre: YA/Historical Fiction/WWII-Holocaust
Plot: Inspired by real Holocaust events, this poignant, award-winning debut novel is a powerful coming-of-age story that will resonate with fans of The Book Thief and Between Shades of Gray.
Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.
Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.
“My last thought, before I say the Shema, is of the young mother Jacob told us about, while he choked on his own tears-a mother who smothered her own child in her winter coat before the shot came, so the child would not feel the bullet”
A book hasn’t left me speechless in a while…
But here I am…
This book will ignite a fire in your bones and put an ache in your heart.
It is a beautiful, devastating and horrific story, but a story of one light that is incapable of being extinguished.
A light that burns so fiercely with conviction, resilience, hope and determination.
That light is the Slivka family.
My Real Name is Hanna is set in a small Ukrainian village called Kwasova where the reader is introduced to fourteen-year-old Hanna in May of 1941 at the height of Adolf Hitler’s reign. She describes the drastic changes to her town, the way neighbors and villagers begin to shun her family, and the non-Jewish children who throw stones at her siblings. How countless signs paint the Jewish people to be disease ridden with lice and infection, and that they should be eradicated from the Earth. As the Germans attempt to make Ukraine “Jew Free”, Hanna and her family are forced to flee their home into the forest. For two years they hide with other families in first a small shelter, and then underground caves for thirteen months.
“We leave on the first cloudy night, so the moon won’t betray our fleeing figures.”
It is never easy reading the terrifying experiences that millions were subjected to during WWII. But it is especially difficult living those moments with a character you cherish so deeply, as they experience each second of terror, confusion and fear. Hanna is everything I could ever hope to become in life. She is brave, unyielding, and hopeful. She is a force that sees the beauty and kindness in the world, even when the same world seems so set on ripping her to pieces.
She exudes a strength that is almost unfathomable for a girl so young. She is impossible not to love as she portrays such compassion and care to her family members, and the families that run with them. But reading about Hanna was exhausting. It put a cloud over my already blue head, cut my air supply in half, and made my stomach flutter with anxiousness.
Reading this book is like holding Hanna’s hand as she is forced to live in darkness; starving and scared. All you can do is sit in silence, and hope that she lives.
“For she was in a black dungeon…for she was in a cage…She had been in that cage a long time now, but now long enough to break her spirit.”
Where reality really set in for me, is when the families arrive at the caves. Their plan is to live underground, in the hopes that they won’t be found and that they can survive until the war ends. Though this story was incredibly sad up until this point, my stomach didn’t actually drop to the floor until Hanna began crawling inside. To say this moment is heavy, would be a completely inappropriate and horrid description of the situation.
It isn’t heavy.
But with each moment of bleakness and suffering, there are tokens of brightness littering this story as well. Countless people assist the families in finding shelter and food, there are meaningful stories shared during their days in hiding, and a tree that is a symbol of their hope and salvation. The writing is superbly done, and the voice of Hanna is captured beautifully by the author. She is youthful and views her surroundings with a tint of innocence, but knows the seriousness of the situation she and her family are in. She is an old soul full of wisdom and strength, and you can’t help but look up to her.
Though these characters are fictional and created by the author, the Slivka family is based on real-life survivor Esther Stermer, her extended family and four other families who survived WWII by hiding in caves for over 500 days. My Name is Hanna is an incredibly important story that NEEDS to be shared with all ages. In a world where there is so much hate and lack of communication and listening, this book will will serve as a reminder that we are all human and deserve the same amount of decency.
Please read this. It’s important.
“I am jealous of how quickly they forget”.