The Yellow Bird Sings
Flatiron Books, Mar 2020
Historical novel, WWII
Triggers: rape, abortion, racial segregation, war.
The cover is simple and most misleading as to any clue to the story. Well, unless you picture this as what Shira sees in her mind. No, I don’t believe Shira ever saw gray in her mind. The music in her mind was too rich to settle for something as mundane as gray.
The Nazis have come and Shira and her mother, Roza, are hiding in the loft of a neighbor’s barn. Shira comes from a family of musicians and is a gifted musician herself. In her mind, she composes music for several different instruments that her family had played and made before the Nazis came. This is how her mother keeps her 5-year-old daughter silent. She tells her a story about a magical garden where a lovely yellow bird sings what Shira creates in her head. The music keeps the flowers in the garden alive and makes them grow. So, in her mind, she is free in the garden. She and the yellow bird.
But the Nazis come closer and closer and finally, they want to search the barn, the loft. Roza must make the decision whether to take Shira into the forest and live rough with other Jews and keep Shira with her or send her with the nuns at the convent and hope she will be safer there. Living rough in the forest is very dangerous even for adults, never mind for children, but if they are apart, Roza won’t know if Shira is safe or not.
The dangers Roza faces in the forest are scary, but there are people with their children there. She wants to bring Shira back to her.
Shira goes through so much at the convent. A different name, A different hair color and a kerchief to cover her roots. But there is a violin left by a former student there. And one of the nuns knows a music teacher who is thrilled to have such a student. So young and so gifted. Each time the Nazi official comes to inspect the convent, he asks that Shira plays for him during his lunch. Everyone is nervous the whole time he is there. Shira doesn’t understand why she is considered different than the other girls. She’s just a little girl who likes music. Why do they cover her hair and change the color of it? Why did they change her name? What will her mother think of these new prayers she’s had to learn?
The Nazis attack the groups in the forest. The convent is bombed and several people are killed and some are evacuated. Will Roza and Shira ever see each other again?
This is a highly moving story based on actual things that happened to the Jews in Poland during WWII. For a long time, the people who lived these stories didn’t talk about their experiences because it was too painful. Now, some of the stories are being told because they realize that if they don’t tell them now the stories will be lost as more and more of them die. So many stories have already been lost.