The Red Ribbon
UK Publisher: Hot Key Books
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Every dress Ella makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.
I teared up so many times through the course of this story. A few times with happiness, but so often at the cruelty and injustice the prisoners suffered. However despite the grimness, hope flowed - a hidden undercurrent - through each and every page. THE RED RIBBON is a spectacular work of fiction, woven with shocking truths to form an incredibly emotional read. Warning: do not attempt to read without some tissues nearby!
Ella’s identity is gone. Snatched from her family, denied a name and any worldly possessions, she has become a stripey. Just another number in a roll-call of black and white uniforms. But unlike many in the Auschwitz work camp, Ella is determined to survive.
A skilled dressmaker, Ella claws her way into the tailors workshop - a better job than most - but with over ten thousand new arrivals everyday, no position is safe. In Auschwitz, everyone is replaceable. Now Ella must make a moral choice: help others and risk death, or help herself and risk losing her humanity…
I had a hard time putting this book down. Anxious over which characters would and wouldn't survive, I devoured this story overnight. It is a tactfully told, haunting tale that somehow brings to life the horrors suffered, but without going into graphic detail. Steeped in emotion, this book really questions what it is to be human.
Ella is strong protagonist. I loved how she assigned her fellow prisoners animal-titles, referring to them as a bear, or hedgehog, squirrel or shrew. It instantly opened up their personalities in a single line of description. But what caught me about Ella, is that from the get go, she knows she can’t be a mouse if she is to survive.
In contrast to Ella is Rose. Generous, positive and kind, Rose signifies what every person hopes they would be in a time of crisis. Her friendship, I believe, kept Ella from becoming one of the darker characters who looked out only for themselves. However without Ella pushing Rose to be a little selfish at times, Rose would have been swallowed by the more bloodthirsty creatures.
A line near the end of the books said something like, their came a point when all the mice, squirrels and ducklings were gone. Only the predators remained. This was in reference to the prisoners, and it broke my heart.
Overall this is a real shades of grey story. Set in a place where you can’t judge who to trust, the book is written with a complexity where morals can’t be simplified into either good or bad. Even the prison guards couldn't be truly hated.
I think however the real beauty of this story was how it didn't focus on one group. It didn't zero in on any one race, religion or political belief. Instead it encompassed them as a whole, telling everyones story. In doing so, this book did a fantastic job of putting me, the reader, in that prison camp. Because Ella lacked description, and was stripped to very base of what it is to be human, her character will resonate with all.
A truly unforgettable read. 5 stars!
Talk to me
Have any you read this book? How do you feel about war stories as a whole? I must admit they aren't generally my thing, but this book really blew me away!