I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My Real Name Is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih
Published by Mandel Vilar Press on 18th September 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, YA
Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.
A Wee Summary
Hanna is a teenage girl living in Kwasova, Ukraine when Hitler’s army invades the country. She and her family are Jewish. They are part of the Jewish community in Kwasova, a town made up of Galician people who were originally Russian, Polish and Ukrainian.
With the Red Army fighting Germany, the war seems far from Kwasova as Hanna and the Slivka family get on with their daily lives, but they know it’s out there as they provide temporary shelter for those fleeing the Nazis.
Hanna is employed by her friend and neighbour Mrs Petrovich where she helps the older lady in the creation of her pysanky eggs. However, as the Germans close in on Kwasova with intentions of making the town ‘free of Jews’, and tales of the atrocities carried out against their fellow Jewish people reach the Slivka family it’s clear that their lives will never be the same again.
My Real Name Is Hanna is a work of historical fiction which draws upon the lives and experiences of the Jewish community in Ukraine during World War Two. The author explains that while her characters are fictional, they have all been inspired by the stories of Holocaust survivors, and the documented histories of the time.
Hanna is a very likeable character. Her story is told as an older lady, having survived the War, sharing her teenage story with her daughter.
This is a book directed at a young adult audience, with a coming-of-age feel to it within the environment of WWII. It must be a hard task to write a Holocaust novel for YA, but Masih does it wonderfully. She strikes a good balance of educating of the atrocities and the history of the time, without overwhelming the younger reader.
Personally, I learned a lot from this novel, having never read anything focussed on Ukraine during WWII before. I don’t want to go into what I learned though; you will need to read this novel to find out. However I will say that in blending fact with fiction, this is a story that not only breaks your heart, it expands your mind.
Hanna’s story is one of survival, determination, love, and hope. Through Hanna we not only see the evil that takes so many lives and drives her family into hiding, but we see the goodness in people – those like Mrs Petrovich that risk their lives so that their Jewish friends might have a chance to live.
I could talk about aspects of this book all day but I don’t want to spoil it. I thoroughly encourage you to read it. For young adults, it’s a well-written, educational and emotional novel. For adults it’s a quick but eye-opening read.
For all of us, it’s a reminder, not only of stories that should never be forgotten, but also of what hate does to the world and why we all need to be more like Mrs Petrovich and those who helped their Jewish counterparts.