Title: My Real Name Is Hanna
Writer: Tara Lynn Masih
Publishing House: Mandel Vilar Press
Date of Publication: September 11th 2018
Rating: 5 stars
*Any political comments will be promptly deleted*
‘’As good as life looks now to us young children, there is still a sense of always looking over your shoulder for something to hit you.’’
This is one of the most beautiful books of the year. Based on the true story of a Jewish family living in Ukraine during the darkest period in History, the Second World War, it is a story of fear and struggle for survival, a fight for dignity and hope that refuse to be persecuted and die. Through the eyes of Hanna, a 14-year-old girl, we find ourselves in the beautiful, haunting Ukrainian forests in a time, when the dark clouds of fascism have covered the world.
Hanna’s land becomes a trapped, helpless animal in the hands of the worst powers in European History, the Nazis and the Soviets. Under Stalin, every religion is forbidden. A good, useful member of the ‘’community’’ is made to show obedience to the State. Exclusively. Nothing else is sacred. There is no way out for the people and strife leads them to believe that the Nazis will be able to make things better. So, on the one side, Hitler is waiting. On the other, Stalin is in power. The country is trapped between two insane tyrants.
Decorated Easter eggs known as ‘pysanka’. (image source: http://ukrainianpeople.us/pysanka-ukrainian-easter-truditions/)
The dark atmosphere is interrupted by the beautiful descriptions of a nature that is both mesmerizing and unsettling. It will soon be destroyed by the black boots of demons. It was a relief and a joy to read about the traditions, the customs, the prayers of the Jewish community. The folktales shared by grandmothers and mothers to the new generations, tales of courage that help them stand as bravely as they can. There are also extensive references to the pagan traditions of the land, before the coming of Christianity, particularly reflected in the Easter customs. Even the nightly forest, dark and full of dangers, holds a certain appeal. Tara Lynn Masih painted a background that is menacing and fascinating.
‘’Someday, someone will betray us. For money, for food, for their own lives spared.’’
The worst consequence of war is the way in which communities are torn apart. People who used to live together in peace and understanding become enemies prepared to jump at their neighbor’s throat. There is a particularly striking scene in which an old poster of Stalin is covered by a brand new poster of Hitler. For me, it was the saddest moment in the story, showing the lack of any kind of escape for the citizens. Another memorable moment -out of many- is the sequence of atrocities carried out as the immortal creations of Bach and Beethoven are echoing like a soundtrack from Hell. I don’t know whether this is historically accurate but it definitely makes you wonder how war destroys every sense of beauty and dignity and kindness in enemies and victims alike.
‘’Home is where you are safe.’’
Masih does a wonderful job in creating a claustrophobic, threatening atmosphere throughout the story. The nightmare of living in constant fear, waiting for that knock on the door that will lead you to Hell. The prejudice, the deliberate spreading of hostility against innocent people, how Populism always finds the soil to grow when the economic situation is shaky and no country is immune to this vile disease.
In my opinion, this novel is on par with Between Shades of Gray. Perhaps, even better. The characters are extremely well-written and the writer didn’t resort to overtly violent descriptions for shock value. There is violence and cruelty but in a way that isn’t gory. There is no need for over-the-top descriptions. We all know what happened. We all know what war brings, even the fortunate generations that had no first-hand experience of what war really means. Still, there is hope. Every war eventually ends and nations that once were enemies now work together for peace and prosperity. This is how it should be. History should help us remember so as not to repeat the wrongs of the past. It isn’t there to prolong enmities between countries for all eternity. This is the only way to create some kind of sense in this tortured world….
Many thanks to Mandel Vilar Press and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com