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Resistance

Review

Resistance

This book should come with a warning label that reads: WARNING: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU HAVE TIME TO READ IT IN ITS ENTIRETY IN ONE SITTING. Yes, RESISTANCE by Jennifer Nielsen is that good and that compelling. While the topic of RESISTANCE, the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews during WWII, is one that many are interested in, RESISTANCE’s appeal goes far beyond simply the topic. Nielsen is a master storyteller with a gift for pacing and the creation of relatable, nuanced and unforgettable characters. The combination of the topic and Nielsen’s craft literally make this book impossible to put down.
 
Chaya Lindner is at the heart of RESISTANCE. Even though she is only 16-years-old, as a Jewish girl living in Poland under Nazi occupation, she understands what it means to lose everything. As many of the Jews of Krakow, including Chaya’s family, were being herded into the ghetto, she was forced out of the city by order of the Judenrat. Being torn from her family was devastating, but it led to her discovery of a group of resistors, who became her family and gave her purpose.

"This book should come with a warning label that reads: WARNING: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU HAVE TIME TO READ IT IN ITS ENTIRETY IN ONE SITTING. Yes, RESISTANCE by Jennifer Nielsen is that good and that compelling."

Because Chaya didn’t “look” Jewish, she quickly assumed the role of courier for the resistance. Her job was to move in and out of the ghettos as well as between the ghettos; she often snuck things in and out of the ghetto and sometimes even people. However, the most important item she carried was information. The resistance used the information Chaya gathered to make plans, but it was also a “lifeline” between ghettos as knowledge was power. In addition, information allowed the resistance to plan and participate in increasingly bold acts of sabotage, including the attack on the Cyganeria Café on December 22, 1942.
 
As the novel progresses and consequences of actions unfold, Chaya witnesses and learns about greater and greater atrocities committed by the Nazis on her people. She ultimately finds herself in the Warsaw ghetto helping to prepare for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Although no one who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising expected to conquer the Third Reich, they were able to hold off the Nazis for nearly a month. As Chaya remarks at the end of the novel,
“Historians might say that the Jews lost every uprising we attempted in this war, that every resistance movement failed. I disagree. We proved that there was value in faith. There was value in loyalty. And that a righteous resistance was victory in itself, no matter the outcome” (p. 375; please note that pagination is from an advanced reading copy).
 
Although RESISTANCE is a work of historical fiction, many of the events really happened, including the attack by a resistance group on the Cyganeria Café in Krakow in December of 1942, and many of the people referenced or portrayed in the novel were real people; in her afterword Nielsen provides further information about, as she labels them, “heroic individuals involved in the Jewish resistance” (p. 380). As a reader I was absorbed by the characters, the events, the action and the suspense of the novel, but to realize that many of the people and events actually happened adds yet another layer onto the already irresistible appeal of this book.
 
RESISTANCE is not only a fantastic novel, it is an important book. WWII and the Holocaust are “popular” topics in literature for readers of all ages. However, in my experience, few of these books focus on the resistance, by both the Jews and others living in occupied spaces, to these events. These stories of resistance are essential for innumerable reasons, including not allowing history to place the Jewish people in the “victim column” and for providing us with models of and inspirations for resistance. We live in times that demand resistance and Chaya and the whole of RESISTANCE can illuminate the way for us. As Chaya says, “…if love was not stronger, hatred would run through the generations. I intended to be stronger” (p. 372)

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on December 12, 2018

Resistance
by Jennifer A. Nielsen