Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Book Review: THE SONG OF THE STORK by Stephan Collishaw

The Song of the Stork

Author: Stephan Collishaw
Legend Press
March 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Fifteen year old Yael is on the run. The Jewish girl seeks shelter from the Germans on the farm of the village outcast. Aleksei is mute and solitary, but as the brutal winter advances, he reluctantly takes her in and a delicate relationship develops. As her feelings towards Aleksei change, the war intrudes and Yael is forced to join a Jewish partisan group fighting in the woods. Torn apart and fighting for her life, The Song of the Stork is Yael's story of love, hope, and survival. It is the story of one woman finding a voice as the voices around her are extinguished.

My thoughts:

It is 1941, and the German army is occupying Lithuania, trying to force its way across the Eastern Front into Russia. 15-year old Yael, a Jewish girl driven from her home by German soldiers, is fighting a daily battle to survive in the forest with a group of partisans, knowing that discovery will mean certain death. Malnourished, dirty and all alone after her last friend has succumbed to a sudden and swift illness, Yael stumbles across a lonely farmhouse owned by a young mute man, Aleksei, shunned by the rest of the community as being crazy. Sheltering in the henhouse for warmth, Yael drinks water from the well and ekes out a meagre supply of food from the scraps on the compost heap, until the first days of winter cold force her to knock on Aleksei’s door for shelter. Afraid for his life, Aleksei sends the young girl away, refusing to help her. But the same evening, Yael finds a small plate of food left for her near the henhouse. Over time, a tentative friendship between the two young people forms, and in this coldest winter of 1941, Yael comes to find refuge in Aleksei’s home.

The Song of the Stork is a beautiful story of courage and survival, and of love found in the most unlikely places. Character driven and with vivid imagery, the author evokes the harsh realities of living in fear, of trying to survive in a cold hostile place against all odds. And yet, in this darkest chapter of history, humanity still shines through in small acts of kindness, in a shy friendship forming between a young orphaned girl and a solitary young man. I loved the scenes describing Yael’s life in Aleksei’s house, the simplicity of the small pleasures, of feeling safe and sheltered, of having food and water to wash, of being able to sit in front of a warm fire. How we take all those things for granted! The complete isolation of Yael and Aleksei’s life in the remote farmhouse away from civilisation and at the mercy of nature reminded me of scenes from Our Endless Numbered Days, as Peggy and her father try to survive the cold winter with just each other as company.

Is it possible, she thought, that here, in the middle of war, as on all sides carnage and murder stalk the world, is it possible that there can exist this pocket of peace? Of joy? Of sanity? Are there more?

I would have been very happy to stay there with them and read more about their daily struggles to find food, cut wood, stay warm and safe keep their hopes up that this terrible war would soon be over. But once the cold winter ends and the snow retreats, so does their safety, and the second half of the book took an unexpected turn which saw Yael’s life in turmoil again.

Yael was torn with the irony that with the spring, with this resurrection of the earth, war once more became possible; death could continue its rampage across the continent.

I was impressed by Collishaw’s writing, and it totally swept me away into a different time and place. There are many books out there about the events during WWII described, but The Song of the Stork touched me deeply, without some of the overly graphic scenes used by other authors to describe the horrors of war – Collinshaw manages to convey this message in the simple everyday battle of survival and the tentative emotional bond that forms between the two main protagonists. I admit I liked the second part of the story a lot less and was a bit disappointed with the ending, since it left many questions unanswered. However, I must concede that in Yael’s reality as a displaced person the longed for happy conclusion was merely wishful thinking on my part. In summary, The Song of the Stork is a contemplative coming-of-age story of a young girl displaced by war and trying to survive in a hostile world. Atmospheric and focusing on inter-human relationships, it drew me in deeply and transported me to another time and place like only few novels can. Recommended to anyone who enjoys historical fiction set in WWII.


It was not in the thunder nor the lightning, nor in the strong wind, but in the still small voice that God was.

If nobody knows I am here, she thought, if there is nobody to say my name, then do I really exist? 

Was this then love? she wondered. Not a fairy tale, not the romance and passion she had dreamt of. Not dramatic. Not inexplicable. But rather a deep, penetrating thankfulness for the kindness of another.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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