I was so excited when I finally got to The Red Ribbon on my ARC list & the book did not disappoint; it broke my heart & gave me strength in equal measure. It’s one of those books I think everyone should read; & I can promise you that you’ll never look at red ribbon or apple blossom trees in the same way ever again.
I received an eARC of this book in return for an honest review.
Warning: this book is mainly set in Auschwitz the concentration camp so be prepared for war-related themes & human suffering.
Ever since I read the synopsis for The Red Ribbon I had been excited to read it; despite reading a lot of historical fiction, I haven’t read many books set in Auschwitz (this is possibly only the second) so I was enthusiastic about what I could learn from this story. As well as this, I was excited about the book because it is told from the perspective of a young girl & I knew that Ella would have some level of ignorance/innocence when it came to her situation. I also liked the sound of this book because of the sewing workshop – I didn’t know there were these kinds of workhouses in Auschwitz so I knew I would learn something totally knew.
Ella’s basic story is something that everyone is aware of; we all think we know how awful the Nazi concentration camps were, but it’s not until you read books like this that you really start to build a true understanding of what everyday life was like for the people who were taken prisoner. Ella is very young & poses as a 16 year old so she’s able to get work in a sewing workshop; Ella is very ignorant of her situation though, & eats up the rewards she is given for making beautiful dresses for the female Nazis. It takes Ella a while to realise how disgusting her true situation is & I found this very emotional because, as a reader, I knew a lot of what was going to happen & what might happen to Ella, & knowing that she really was unaware of a lot of the things that were going on around her broke my heart.
Eventually, Ella does start to understand the true extent of her situation, but instead of letting it break her, she forces herself to work harder to keep hold of her true identity as a seamstress. Someone who helps Ella to keep hold of who she is, is her friend Rose; Rose has had a very different life from Ella & in a lot of ways they don’t fit together very well… where Ella is serious, Rose is playful & where Ella is unaware, Rose is painfully aware; but! Together they find ways to survive & keep going, & their friendship is something of pure beauty (just like the dresses they made).
Despite the beauty of the writing & the beauty of Ella & Rose’s friendship, the story being told here isn’t 100% beautiful – this story tore my heart apart & opened my eyes to horrors that I didn’t know about before. Lucy Adlington has done a lot of research for this book & it’s obvious that she has worked hard to make this story as real as possible. The suffering that went on in Auschwitz, & places like it, seeps out of the pores of this book, & it is undeniable that the underlying true story being told here is heart shattering.
I loved this book, which is a strange thing to say about historical fiction of this kind, but I did love it & I cannot wait to get my hands on a physical copy. The last 15% of it rocked my core & I cried rivers of tears; the ending was more than I expected & if Lucy decided to write a sequel I would beg until I had a copy. Lucy truly has written an incredible piece of fiction here & I hope that, once released, The Red Ribbon gets the recognition it deserves; one as a beautiful story, but also as an education about our history.
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