When I was 16, I traveled with my family to the Czech Republic. We spent most of our time in Prague, but we drove through the country to Austria at the end of our trip. On our way there, we went to the Lidice Memorial, and so I learned for the first time, the history of the Nazi attack in Lidice that led to the deaths of many who lived there, and to the razing of the town to the ground. While I have some vivid memories of my time in Prague, I remember Lidice and in particular, the statues of The Children’s War Memorial, with particular clarity. Joan M. Wolf’s Someone Named Eva, is a story that I would have appreciated all the more at that time, though it affected me deeply even now.
Wolf’s novel tells the story of a young Lidice girl named Milada, who is taken from her family during the Nazi raid on her town and, saved by her blond hair and blue eyes, she is brought to a Lebensborn centre to be trained as the perfect German citizen. It follows Milada as she finds herself transforming, assuming a new name, and being drawn deeper into a culture she does not know or wish to embrace.
At one point in my reading, I realized that I was only about third of the way through the book, and I wondered where Wolf would take the story. I was so immersed in Milada’s thoughts, observations and emotions, that I was not predicting what would happen next. This is one of the strengths of Wolf’s work. The pacing is excellent. She takes time to characterize Milada and to linger over Milada’s mixed feelings and confusion during her time at the Lebensborn centre. Wolf’s writing is not flashy. It is very direct and feels honest. In fact, it is the book’s honesty and straightforwardness that allows the events and the horror of the history to speak and to enter the reader in way that is moving and thought-provoking. But all this is achieved with real subtlety, and I think that children and young people will find the simplicity of the storytelling compelling. When I say simplicity, I do not mean to imply that the writing is unsophisticated. Wolf spent seven years researching and writing this book, and it shows. The jury is out on the cover, however. It is certainly striking, and it kind of grows on you as you’re reading. As a bookseller, I know that the cover must draw in children and their parents as soon as they see it, and with so many titles out there set in this historical period, I hope that Wolf’s book will make it into many childrens’ hands since the cover will not have mass appeal.
From a teacher’s perspective, this story would pair beautifully with many other novels and non-fiction texts. Number the Stars, Anne Frank, Hana’s Suitcase and Fireflies in the Dark: the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin
come to mind immediately. Someone Named Eva is up for the Cybils award this year, and if it was given the prize, I wouldn’t be disappointed. Visit Joan M. Wolf‘s website for interesting information on her writing process.
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf is published by Clairon Books