Monday, September 8, 2008

My Enemy's Cradle

Title: My Enemy's Cradle
Author: Sara Young
Date Finished: September 5, 2008
Pages: 384

I have been wanting to read this book for a couple of months now, and had actually considered it for my selection in my IRL Book Club. However, when a friend told me about the Bang Bang Challenge, I decided to hold off a little bit and use this as one of my five choices. I have always been a fan of War book and movies, which being a girl will often get me strange looks, but I am particularly interested in World War II and anything that has to do with the Holocaust. In school, this was one of the most interesting topics for research and discussion for me and continues to make me wonder how things like this were allowed to happen.

Cyrla, who is half-Jewish, half-Dutch, was sent to live with her late mother's relatives in Holland when things in Poland were threatened by the Germans during World War II. Having her mother's blond hair, Cyrla's father believes she would be safer living with her mother's Dutch family than remaining in Holland with him and her two brothers. She and her cousin, Anneke, become like sisters and are always sharing things with each other. Cyrla is somewhat jealous of Anneke and the way she commands attention when she enters a room, how she can get the attention of any may she desires and how much simpler her life seems since she is not Jewish. To Anneke, the fact that Cyrla is half-Jewish does not really register, because for her, it is a moot point. They are family and that is all that matters. Anneke's father on the other hand, is very quick to point out that Cyrla could bring them problems with the SS since she is staying in their house.

Anneke falls in love with a German soldier, Karl, who is not really a Nazi sympathizer. Anneke becomes pregnant with Karl's child and after telling her parents is forced to be tested by the doctors at a Lebensborn, which is a home for women who are pregnant with German children. If a father is named, he is given rights to the child. If he is married, then the child is taken into his home and raised by his wife, if he is not married and does not wish to keep the child, it is put up for adoption and placement in a German family. The mothers are not allowed to keep the child for fear that they will take the kid back to their hometown and raise it to be an enemy of Germany or eventually birth children who will be enemies of Germany.

After some heartbreaking pages, Anneke is found dead by Cyrla and her aunt. Anneke's death is blamed on her father for wanting to send her to a Lebensborn and he disappears into the night. Cyrla's aunt decides that it is no longer safe for her and so she is urged to use Anneke's name and go to the Lebensborn in her place. Cyrla and Anneke are so identical they could be twins, but Cyrla fears that she will not be able to fool the doctors, nurses and other expectant mothers. The most obvious reason being she is not pregnant. Upon coming to live with her relatives, Cyrla made friends with a young Jewish man named, Isaak. Cyrla has very strong feelings for him and so she approaches him with her problem and he is willing to help her.

Cyrla will not leave Isaak without making him promise that he will come get her before she delivers the baby (since it will not be German) and he eventually promises to do so. Upon her arrival at the Lebensborn, Cyrla realizes that she has been taken to another location, inside Germany. With no way to relay this to Isaak, she becomes desperate to keep her identity hidden from those around her. Cyrla makes friends with some of the girls in the house, and one of the nurses, who she realises is not like the others. Even though she must keep her identity a secret, she longs for companionship and compassion. Not being able to communicate with her family, or even knowing where they are weighs heavily on her and keeps her constantly on her toes.

Karl appears at the Lebensborn one day after being informed that he has a pregnant woman there with him listed as the father. Upon seeing Cyrla instead of Anneke, Karl does not blowing her cover, instead he waits until they can speak privately to find out where Anneke is and what is going on. After delaying as long as possible, Cyrla finally decides to tell Karl the truth. He did not know that Anneke was pregnant and told Cyrla the story of what really happened the last day he saw Anneke. Not knowing that she was coming to tell him her big news, he had his own big news to share. He was not in love with her, but was actually falling for her cousin, Cyrla.

* Spoilers ahead*

Having a hard time believing anyone who wears the German uniform, Cyrla tries to ignore the kindness that Karl is bestowing on her, and for quite some time, she lies to him and denies anything he offers her. Eventually, she realizes that he really does care about her, and not just because she is Anneke's cousin, but for who she is. They fall in love in a time of war and hardship and both suffer great losses before the war is over. Not only does Cyrla lose her cousin, she finds out Isaak was killed in a concentration camp, possibly along with the rest of her family. Karl suffers a great deal too, he lost a child he did not even know about and when he helped Cyrla flee the Lebensborn, he was sent to a concentration camp himself and they removed his hands, since his pleasure in life was making boats.

This story, like many others during this World War, break my heart. I am always amazed at the strength some of those people portrayed, and hope that if I were ever put in a similar situation, I would be able to bend and not break. Sara Young does a wonderful job with the characters in this book and you feel as if you are there with them, helping them fight their battles, and hoping that she is never discovered.


Laura said...

I also am a huge fan of books set in the WWII period, even though such terrible things were happening all over the world. I think I'll have to borrow this from you after I get caught up on some of my challenges! :)

I bet this would be a good selection for the book club!

Trish said...

I actually only read the first couple of paragraphs because I always try to avoid reading spoilers, but this sounds really good! I got my copy of The Zookeeper's Wife in the mail today and am so excited to read it! When is your month again? ;) For some reason I had thought it was fiction, so I'm really interested to see how the author treats the material.