WE SHALL NOT SHATTER
Brzeziny, Poland, 1939
Zofia’s comfortable lifestyle overturns when her husband, Jabez, who monitors Nazi activity, has gone missing. Rather than fleeing the country with her young son—as she had promised Jabez who fears retaliation—she decides to stay. She cannot possibly leave her friend, Aanya. Since their childhood they have amazed fellow Brzeziners that it does not matter that Aanya is Jewish and deaf, and that Zofia is Catholic and hearing. Now, more than ever with war looming, Zofia will do whatever is necessary to protect her family and Aanya.
As both love and war approach their Polish town, Zofia and Aanya must make choices that will change the meaning of family, home, and their precious friendship. The journey, decisions and the no-going-back consequences the women face will either help them to survive—or not—as Hitler’s Third Reich revs up its control of the world.
Inspired by the author’s paternal heritage from Brzeziny, this is a heart-breaking yet beautiful story of two women who are determined to remain united in friendship and to live freely despite the odds.
Elaine Stock writes Historical Fiction, exploring home, family and friendships throughout time. She enjoys creating stories showing how all faiths, races, and belief systems are interconnected and need each other.
Elaine’s grandparents, on both sides of her family, narrowly escaped World War II by immigrating from Poland and Austria to the US. Fascinated by the strong will of people to overcome the horrors from this era, she wrote We Shall Not Shatter, Book #1 of the “Resilient Women of WWII Trilogy” inspired by her deaf great aunt who was left behind as a teenager in Poland and perished in the Holocaust, while her other deaf siblings were permitted to enter the US when their young ages helped them to circumvent medically-revealing exams. Other extended family members also remained in Poland to lose their lives in the Holocaust.
Although multi-published in award-winning Inspirational Fiction, and a past blogger and online magazine contributor, Elaine now pens novels for the General reading audience. She is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association and The Historical Novel Society. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she has now been living in upstate, rural New York with her husband for more years than her stint as a city gal. She enjoys long walks down country roads, visiting New England towns, and of course, a good book.
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“I’m thankful for the variety of books, and the many genres, both fiction and non-fiction, that authors write. I’m also thankful for all the readers who continue to read books by their favorite authors as well as try books by new-to-them authors”
“My goal in writing is to create characters, plots, and settings throughout time, yet relevant to the present day, that foster brighter tomorrows“
Birch and linden trees thick with spring-green leaves lined the dirt road from home. From a cloudless blue sky the warmth of the sun reached five-year-old Zofia like an embrace. After a stretch of chilly days this new one promised goodness. Last night Mamusiu told her a story about the forest fairies and how they pouted and said bad things about the unusual cold weather they suffered through one spring. It was as if they’d lost hope of a better tomorrow, she said.
The French marble clock in the bedroom chimed five o’clock at the same time a pounding came to the front door. The abrupt noise, loud and demanding, rattled Zofia Badower that early January evening. In ordinary times she wouldn’t have worried about her son downstairs playing with his toys but ever since 1939 arrived, trouble brewed daily. Every part of Zofia swung into guarded alert. Another set of urgent knockings propelled her downstairs. This harbinger at the door, with unrelenting fists insisting on a response, wouldn’t be bringing good news.
“I understand. Jabez and you have close ties to Aanya Gerszon and her family. The Nazis don’t care. Association with a Jew is almost as bad to their way of thinking as being a Jew”
“Her statement shouldn’t have caused amazement, but since it was popular belief that the deaf were unable to function as well as normal people, news of her acquiring a profession contradicted quite a few preconceived notions”
“Why people turn against each other and cause unnecessary chaos, I’ll never understand. It takes more effort to hate than it does to love”
“That was what made friendship special, nearly sacred, and worth nurturing – understanding the other and accompanying them through good times and bad”
“Zofia’s heart remained splintered over how people weren’t treated equally, depending on their finances. If the world functioned on love rather than on monetary value, all would benefit”
“Uncertain times brought out the best and worst in people. This was not the first time she’d behaved boldly. That was a positive aspect of being a deaf person in a hearing world – you had to have confidence, or at least, act in a fashion that led others to believe you were courageous. And she’d perfected her acting abilities a long time ago for the sake of survival”
“The guilt is blazing within me like a fever. I hate lying about who I am and who I’m supposed to be. I’m torn up with guilt for denying my heritage and my native country while well aware of how so many people have suffered illness, torture, or death, or all three, because, like me, they failed to live up to Aryan standards”
“A WWII story of friendship, family and hope against all odds”
I really don’t want to churn out the same, often used epithets to describe this book, as it is worthy of so much more. Yes, of course it goes without saying, that this was a heart-breaking, tear-jerker, however my feelings about this storyline went so much deeper, the only word which kept coming to mind time and again as I was reading, was ‘moving’! The premise itself, the characters and even the touching, almost naive style of writing, which so suited the entire landscape of the story, all genuinely moved me beyond belief, as together they brought some of the terrible events of WWII to life in a real and tangible way, as perhaps never before.
So with hopefully no spoilers, here is what you can expect from this storyline…
Two families, both Polish, one Catholic, the other Jewish. Brought together and inextricably bound, by the enduring lifelong friendship of their respective daughters, Zofia and Aanya. Life has never been easy for the community of Brezizny, however things are set to become a whole lot more difficult, with the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Zofia is now married with a young son and Aanya, who has been deaf from birth, is at home caring for her mother, whilst working hard to complete her studies to become a doctor.
Whilst on a surveillance operation, Zofia’s husband Jabez, is reported as missing, although she believes that there is more going on in his life than she is privy to. Just how much, it will take Zofia another six years to discover, with the truth of his bravery and sacrifice for his motherland, not being revealed until the family is reunited in a land far away from home, where Jabez has the safe space and time to begin the long journey back to both physical fitness and emotional wellbeing.
As if for Aanya, being Jewish was not enough in these hate fuelled times, to also have a ‘disability’ and to be married to a traitor, marks her out for hate crimes, both from the German and Russian invaders and enemies, and also tragically, from within the community where she has hitherto been accepted for her entire life. An act of kindness she and her husband Artur, endow on someone who arguably does not deserve their help, at first seems to be completely unappreciated. However that good deed is not forgotten and is unexpectedly returned tenfold, at a time when the couple find themselves in their most desperate hour of need. Aanya is already keenly aware that in any conflict, not everyone who finds themselves on either one side of the divide or the other, is all good, or all bad. Many are good people, who are forced to do bad things.
With the two families separated and decimated by the vagaries of a war seemingly without end, captors who have no humility or humanity, the ravages of living standards taking a toll on health, and after all the things they have collectively witnessed and experienced, is there any hope for a future where Zofia and Aanya, courageous sisters in all but blood, can be reunited in peace?
If I had one tiny niggle, it would be that given the importance of the whole storyline, I thought the last couple of scenes might have been a little rushed, with just a few pages more being all that was needed to bring things to a more complete conclusion. But perhaps that was just me not wanting the story to end at all, so immersed was I in the lives of the characters! It certainly wouldn’t stop me rating this with the full five stars, that’s for sure! Surely an important work of cultural and societal fiction, based on and wrapped around, the reality of some well established historical facts and personal experiences, written sympathetically from the heart, with touching poignancy and deference to the subject.
From having read author Elaine Stock’s personal profile, I see that some of the inspiration for the storyline, is taken from her own personal family experiences, which really shines through in the compassionate honesty and integrity of this totally immersive, multi-layered storyline. Fluent and well structured in short, easy to navigate chapters, the story is powerful, intense, highly textured and fast moving in a constantly changing theatre of action, and with a pervading claustrophobic atmosphere of mistrust and fear. When, in the second half of the story, the action is divided between two continents and cultures, the transitions back and forth, are seamlessly executed, making for a fluid reading experience. Some beautifully nuanced and descriptive narrative and dialogue, afford a wonderfully visual and evocative sense of time and place, lifting the sights, sounds and smells from the page, as I took my ‘armchair journey’ back in time.
Elaine affords that same attention to detail and and visual inclusion, to her eclectic cast of characters, no matter how small a part they play in the whole. They are well developed and defined, and whilst not all are easy to connect or empathise with, the overall dynamics and synergy between them, makes them completely investable, genuine and authentic in their individual roles, as they are given a generous and strong voice with which to tell their courageous story of resilience over adversity. They represent a complex jigsaw of vulnerable human emotions, which are laid bare when the fragility of the lines between life and death, defeat and survival, love and hate, trust and duplicity, the frailty of the human mind and indeed their very existence, are drawn. However a raw addictive passion and the will to survive, overcomes all the odds stacked against them, making them stronger, determined to be true to themselves, and more united as time goes on.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story was definitely one of a kind, having the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next, so I can only recommend that you read We Shall Not Shatter for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!