“The world ceased to make sense,” writes Jennifer Rosner in her debut novel, The Yellow Bird Sings. Nothing about Poland in 1941 follows any familiar pattern for Róza and her young daughter, Shira, as they flee their hometown after Nazis invade.
Rosner’s novel takes us to the barn where Henryk and Krystyna, who fear for their own family’s safety if caught harboring Jews, allow the mother and daughter to hide. Róza’s fears compound with each interminable day of their confinement, especially as it grows harder for curious, clever Shira not to indulge her love of music. Róza has told Shira little about why they had to leave, why they have to hide and be quiet, and Shira brims with questions and yearns to be outside. To occupy and distract her daughter, Róza invents a tale of a girl in a hidden flower garden with a virtuoso yellow bird who can sing songs—unless the giants are nearby. Music lifts them as Róza teaches Shira the pieces she and her violinist husband loved, and unexpectedly her daughter’s brilliant proficiency reveals itself. The melodies inside Shira burn to be expressed, and it pains Róza to stifle her daughter’s gift to keep them safe.
In Shira and Róza, Rosner captures two souls in turmoil, chronicling their grief as well as their strength of will to overcome, their longings and even surprising triumphs. Through the language of music and memory, Rosner thoughtfully composes a life for Róza and Shira that is safe and beautiful until it is shattered.
The Yellow Bird Sings keeps your heart in your throat, your eyes pricked with tears. Rosner excels at illustrating the nostalgic pull of a certain melody, a scrap of blanket, the smell of a loved one, a recipe with eggs. When their shelter is threatened, Róza and Shira must fly, as birds do, with only the bond of their hearts to connect them.
The little light that shines in this terrible darkness—the precious little hope that anchors Róza’s and Shira’s souls—is very bright.