Synopsis: In Stolen Child, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch introduced readers to Larissa, a victim of Hitler’s largely unknown Lebensborn program. In this companion novel, readers will learn the fate of Lida, her sister, who was also kidnapped by the Germans and forced into slave labour — an Ostarbeiter.
In addition to her other tasks, Lida’s small hands make her the perfect candidate to handle delicate munitions work, so she is sent to a factory that makes bombs. The gruelling work and conditions leave her severely malnourished and emotionally traumatized, but overriding all of this is her concern and determination to find out what happened to her vulnerable younger sister. With rumours of the Allies turning the tide in the war, Lida and her friends conspire to sabotage the bombs to help block the Nazis’ war effort. When her work camp is finally liberated, she is able to begin her search to learn the fate of her sister.
For the Writer: While well-written, this work of historical fiction does not keep pace with Lowry’s Number the Stars or Lunn’s The Root Cellar in portions of the dialogue, a few of its metaphors, some of the word choices.
The dialogue seemed a little wooden (the sentences too well constructed), a little too subservient to the author’s own sentiment and decorum. On page 96, for example, Lida and Zenia have a conversation, which in my estimation is too magnanimous for kids their age. Their discussion comes across as an adult would have wished or orchestrated how they conversed.
“We’ll be together,” I said. “Won’t that be wonderful?”
Zenia regarded me, one brow arched. “There is no such thing as wonderful here.”
“You’re right, Zenia. But I am still looking forward to working with you.”
“Yes, that is a good thing. Let’s just hope put new jobs aren’t too difficult.”
At other points in the novel, the protagonist Lida, a child, is narrating. Though in Lida’s voice, the narrative sometimes sounds like third person omniscient. “The driver manoeuvred around fallen stonework from a bombed church, which sent us careening to one side on the back of the truck.” p100 manoeuvred? Careening? Which sent us? How formal. This would have been acceptable for the narrator, but perhaps not coming from the mind of Lida. Something like “The truck lurched to one side. We bumped heads and fell against the side of the truck. Another lurch swiped our feet from under us and sent us sprawling to the other side,” would be perhaps closer to the mark. Maybe its just my taste.
Sometimes the author’s word choices drew attention to the writing. “Tears splattered down her cheeks.” I know writers think hard to pen original actions and ‘rolled down her cheeks’ sounds cliché, but ‘splattered’? Here is another case in point. “The sun was shining over the top of a mountain range in the distance. [OK] These sharp grey rocks were nothing like our mountains back home. [OK] Ours had gentle rolling slopes covered with tree and grass. [gentle rolling slopes?] These jutted up into the heavens like weapons. The words heavens and weapons punched me in the nose. Would a child have said ‘heavens’ and ‘weapons’, or would she have said sky, red sky or grey clouds and ‘guns’ or ‘rifles’ or possibly “bayonettes”? The editor for this book could have shaped it with a little more effort into a more engaging narrative befitting the incredible story as told by a child.
These observations aside, the story does leave a lasting impression. For the children the prison/work camps were a living nightmare, through which Skrypuch’s protagonists moved like angels walking among the dead. I’ll never forget what they suffered.
I have recently listened to Marsha describe how she likes to ferret out occurrences and incidents that her readers or the public have not read or heard about. She turns a new eye on events we think we know. These little known historical snippets Skrypuch digs up become the context of her novels. We need to read Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s work and she must keep digging and writing.
Making Bombs for Hitler is definitely worth a read for writers of historical fiction.