The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner
Updated: May 21, 2020
The author has previously written a memoir about raising deaf daughters in a hearing, speaking world. One day a woman at a book event shared her experiences of childhood during World War II. She was hidden by her mother in an attic where she had to keep silent nearly all the time. That was the genesis for The Yellow Bird Sings, the experience fictionalised so in the novel it is about a musical child having to hide and keep silent night and day in a farmer’s barn.
The book opens in Poland in 1941. After all the Jews in their town were rounded up, Roza and her five-year-old daughter Shira stay with a farmer. While he sympathises with their plight, he doesn’t want them to stay too long in his barn. But one night turns into two, two nights into a week, then into many months. To survive they can’t make a sound – they can’t risk being discovered by soldiers or neighbours who might denounce them.
They invent a sign language and they play silent games. But keeping quiet is a special challenge for Shira, a gifted musician with an uncanny ear and love of music. Roza suffers her own hardships too – the loss of their family home, and the torment of her knowing her beloved husband was shoot and killed.
But the day comes when they can no longer remain in the barn. Roza is faced with a terrible choice, keeping her daughter with her, or sending her daughter to live with strangers at an orphanage, in the hope she will have a better chance of survival. Finally, Roza makes the decision. Her distraught daughter is taken away, and Roza heads into the unforgiving woods by herself…
The Yellow Bird Sings is an extraordinary, deeply moving novel – one that I couldn’t put down and that I read in one sitting. The Yellow Bird Sings explores the trauma of the Holocaust, but it also manages to be a beautiful book that shows the unbreakable bond between parent and child. In the darkest days, their love, hope and humanity shine through.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan