In an attempt to help some of my fellow 2020 debut authors who have had book launches and events cancelled because of the coronavirus, I am featuring several of them and their books over the coming weeks and months. The hope and intent is to help build awareness for new authors and their titles releasing this year. Up today, Jennifer Rosner and her book, The Yellow Bird Sings.
Praise for The Yellow Bird Sings
“Desperately moving and exquisitely written. If you only read one book this year, make it The Yellow Bird Sings. A beautiful story with achingly memorable characters, for me Jennifer Rosner’s novel stands alongside The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Code Name Verity as one of those profoundly special World War Two novels you know you will never forget.”
–AJ Pearce, author of Dear Mrs Bird
“Music and love course through this beautiful novel, twin rivers of wonder. The Yellow Bird Sings is a powerful hymn to the resilience and determination of a mother’s love in the face of the inhuman horrors of war. Jennifer Rosner has written a book that will break your heart, and then put it back together again, a little larger than before.”
–Alex George, author of the #1 Indie Next pick A Good American
“The Yellow Bird Sings is a beautiful book in so many ways. Like Shira’s imaginary bird, Jennifer Rosner’s prose is lilting and musical, yet her tale of war’s grave personal reality is gripping, heartrending, and so very real. Told beneath an overarching sky of the unbreakable bond between mother and daughter, this is a story readers will continue to ponder long afterward.”
–Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours and Before and After
“Room meets Schindler’s List in The Yellow Bird Sings, a beautifully written tale of mothers and daughters, war and love, the music of the living and the silence of the dead. Jennifer Rosner is a writer to watch.”
–Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network
“Imagine a mother hiding in fear of her life. Then imagine she is also hiding her lively daughter whose smallest sound may betray them. With wonderful tenderness and imagination, Jennifer Rosner evokes the dangers Roza and Shira face and how, in the midst of those dangers, love and music survive. A brilliant and transporting novel.”
–Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of Mercury and The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“The Yellow Bird Sings is a captivating novel about the power of music, the human voice and what we sacrifice in order to survive extraordinary circumstances. Absolutely riveting.”
–Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One is Here Except All of Us
From the publisher, Flatiron Books
In Poland, as World War II rages, a mother hides with her young daughter, a musical prodigy whose slightest sound may cost them their lives.
As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:
The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.
In this make-believe world, Róza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Róza must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.
Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope―a whispered story, a bird’s song―in even the darkest of times.
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Interview with the author.
Interview was conducted by, and originally posted at www.sissireads.com. Reposted with permission granted from Sissi Reads via the author Jennifer Rosner.
Q: The Yellow Bird Sings is your debut novel, following on the heels of your memoir, If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard, about raising two deaf daughters in a hearing, speaking world. How was the process of writing a novel different from writing about your own experiences?
A: My memoir-writing began as a way to process my feelings, thoughts, and experiences as a mother raising our girls. It was—obviously!—deeply personal; it was creative, too, and demanded my imaginings of the lives of my deaf ancestors in the 1800s. The Yellow Bird Sings is wholly fictional, yet I identified very closely with both Roza and Shira (especially their longings for connection), and felt tied to the yellow bird and to the music running through the work. Writing fiction and writing memoir bring different freedoms and different constraints. For me, both tapped into personal material and were extremely nourishing to write.
Q: In your novel, a mother and daughter struggle to survive in wartime Poland. What drew you to this time in history, and these characters in particular?
A: Years ago I met a woman who, as a child, hid with her mother during WWII. Her story stuck with me; I became fascinated by the notion of a child’s hiding (and also: a mother’s challenge, keeping her child hidden). I began interviewing other “hidden children” of the Holocaust, amazed by their resilience and ingenuity. My novel project grew from there.
Q: What inspired you to include the “character” of the yellow bird in your story?
A: As a mother of two children, I’ve been well-versed in the world of attachment objects (special stuffed animals, blankets) and of “imaginary friends.” My eldest daughter had three such “friends” who would often pop up while she played on the swings. One day I heard of a little girl who, in response to a trauma, ceased speaking and cupped her hands around empty air. I imagined that the girl conjured a pet bird to soothe herself. The image stuck with me. When Shira’s character began to form, having a little bird to bring comfort and to sing her music felt right.
The yellow bird expanded my writing process too. It provided me a device for deeper sub-textual expression and for the introduction of certain magical elements.
Some readers express uncertainty as to whether the yellow bird is “real”—I think this is because Shira conjures him so richly in her imagination, and the stories her mother tells validate Shira’s imagination, and her coping strategies.
Q: This story, written from the perspectives of Roza and Shira, is about the deep love and unbreakable bond between a mother and a child. What was the most difficult part in writing it?
A: The most difficult part in writing had to do with the content of certain scenes; these were challenging because of the terror and pain involved. I had less difficulty inhabiting each character’s perspective (mother and daughter), as I felt deeply identified with both. At the heart of the story is a profound longing for closeness, and I have personal roots to this. As a child I longed for a steady closeness with my mother; but for various reasons my mother could be present to me only intermittently. When I became a mother myself, I was determined to be steadfastly attentive and bonded to my daughters (especially in light of what I’d longed for and missed). So, in a visceral way, I understood the basic need of both Shira and Roza to stay connected throughout.
Q: While I was reading it, it felt like music was another character in Shira and Roza’s story. Why music and why did it play such an instrumental part in this book?
A: From my extensive reading and research, I came to believe that creativity (and the recognition of beauty wherever it could be found) was a key to survival in hiding. In the face of crushing silence and the absolute need to vanish, music—even if never expressed aloud—asserted an aspect of one’s experience, one’s expression, that could not be stolen, silenced, or stopped.
On a more personal note, my childhood was marked daily by the sound of my father practicing the violin. I studied voice (opera, specifically). My mother loved to listen to me sing; she was at her most attentive then. I grew up steeped in the transportive, connective power of music, so it seemed natural for Shira to be musical, for her to connect with Roza through music, and for music to play a role in connecting them even when apart.
Q: What are some of your favorite books?
A: Some recent ones:
- Lila by Marilynne Robinson – because she renders the ordinary extraordinary and makes even the quietest moments sing.
- All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – because with his amazing word choices, he makes language new.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison – because she showed that magic, woven into reality, shakes loose fresh truth.
Q: Do you have any special writing rituals? Snacks? Playlists?
A: Tea and chocolate. Tea and chocolate. Tea and chocolate…..
Q: What’s up next for you?
A: I’m at work on a new novel! It’s at the earliest stages—exciting and also daunting. All I can say for now is, it’s taking the form of a fable, and it is about truth-telling, rising waters, and a girl trying to find home.