What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper is a Young Adult novel that follows Gerta Rausch after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. The novel starts right before the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, offering the reader only glimpses of Gerta’s life there and her life before then. After the Liberation she finds, like many others, that she has no family left and nowhere to go. Her house has been taken by the Germans and her father died during the Holocaust. Gerta’s only possessions are her father’s Viola and a few precious photographs. She finds herself relocated to Palestine, having to build herself a new life after the harrowing events of the Holocaust. She is aided by Lev Goldszmit and Michah Gottlieb throughout her journey.
This novel was a bit of a let down for me. I was excited to see a novel, especially a YA book that was about what the Jews did after the Holocaust. This is a topic that isn’t generally covered even in adult books, the majority focused on the atrocities of the Holocaust. It is shocking how much time survivors spent in the camps after they were liberated and how difficult it was to find them places to live.
The art in this book is lovely. It was cool to see a Young Adult novel that had illustrations as it is uncommon to see in anything that isn’t a children’s book. I would not suggest using an audiobook for this one, as the illustrations do add to the narrative and make worth sitting down too enjoy. The author used ink wash, white gouache and graphite and then toned digitally. I found myself looking at some of these paintings for extended periods of time, going back to them even after I had finished the novel.
The characters weren’t really developed, this could have been helped by making it a little bit longer. The novel while it was 248 pages, the illustrations took up a quarter of the page to two full pages which shortens the actual written content down. Gerta’s personality is focused around music, Lev, around Judaism and Michah is a mystery of a person who is trying to recruit people to go to Palestine. Gerta and Lev in particular suffer from their obsessions with music and religion respectively. It often gets in the way of adding emotion and depth.
Some parts of this book were particularly frustrating to me. I think in some ways I am getting tired of Holocaust/World War II fiction having happy endings. Gerta, by the end of the novel almost seems unaffected by what happened to her. It is possible that some people did find happiness and peace afterwards, from the Non-fiction I have read from this event I have a feeling that it did not happen as quickly as it does in this novel, if at all.
This novel wasn’t terrible, but it fell flat. I really only had a few things that bothered me about the novel but they were enough to knock it down from a four to a three. If you aren’t bothered by happy endings, which was my main frustration, you will probably enjoy this novel significantly more than I did.