The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington
|The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A compelling read for many groups concerning a girl given an unlikely education in clothes-making in a hellishly unlikely place.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: September 2017|
|Publisher: Hot Key Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Ella is rushing to her audition for a job in fashion, as are several other young women. Thrown in at the deep end in the high-pressure workplace, she is tasked with creating a dress from scratch for an important client before four pm that day. But she manages it, even working through the non-existent lunch break, to design a silk wonder worthy of any environment. But this is no typical make-or-break-'em fashion design house, and this is no normal environment for the recipient to be wearing the frock. This is Birchwood – or Auschwitz-Birkenau to you and I.
Now, I too may have been a little puzzled as to the value of talking about the Holocaust through the medium of clothes, but the book is so assured it can tell you exactly why that's relevant – and without thrusting it down your throat. For one, the inmates were immediately stripped naked if accepted into the camps, then showered and shaven, to be given the worst, anonymous clothing. A lot of what was left around became housed in what here is euphemistically called the Department Store – a place for the Nazis to claim anything they wanted free of charge, as nobody would be expected to survive to claim it back. But boo diddums, the summer this is mostly set in the Nazis get swamped and cannot find the womanpower to go through the ten thousand abandoned suitcases they receive each day.
The fact the Nazis would be picking from the detritus of those they thought less than human is not an irony to feature here, but what the story does concern itself with is Ella, and her doggedness to do as much as she can in the sewing shop to ingratiate herself – whether that be with the guards, or the Prominents (or Kapos, as we'd think of them). To what extent can she be a collaborator? Is it naïve of her to think she can dream up evening gowns and swimwear for the guards, and the Camp Commandant's wife, and not get affected? She has proven naïve already, by telling herself that she only need swap clothes with a Nazi guard and their situation would be reversed – it was a purely arbitrary power thing based on what the two were wearing.
Well, perhaps, but perhaps not. Still, power, and that most dramatic thing of human status struggle, is prominent on these pages. You can't exactly write about the Nazi camps and not have some power on the page, so emotive is the subject. And, even if the clothes-making elements are not really what a young lad would expect him to find himself reading about, there is more than enough here to make for an emotional read for all. You have a finely evoked heroine in Ella, and I liked the way the chapter titles were both fabric colours and elements of her character. Ultimately, of course, it's not about the clothes – it's about morals, personal decisions and ways of surviving in such a heightened scenario. There is a character who appears to be the naivety of Ella ramped up ten-fold, to the point of sheer stupidity, but that's the point.
Still, having points is all well and good – if they don't come across, if the reader cannot discern them properly, then all hope is lost. And here they are as clear as anything; even without the postscript from the author, the aims and intent are obvious. But that's not to say they were too obvious to spoil the readability of this book, and it has that aplenty. This is suitably though-provoking, more than entertaining enough, and really clever at conveying its greater messages. This is brave, and will surely be successful, enough for many to sit up and take notice.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington at Amazon.com.
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