Briar Rose

“There are few writers capable of using the fairy-tale form to write about all the ramifications of the Holocaust, and Jane Yolen is one of them. Her novel is not only a superb accomplishment but also an important social statement.”
–Jack Zipes

An incredibly powerful book, Briar Rose, by Jane Yolen, is a story that entwines the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty with a story from the Holocaust. It is a beautifully written, haunting tale, and an important book to read.

Becca Berlin grew up listening to her grandmother tell the tale of Sleeping Beauty. She and her sisters had every word memorized, and Becca never tired of hearing her grandmother tell it. All of them thought it was just a story, but when their grandmother became gravely ill, and on her deathbed told Becca that she was Briar Rose, Becca believed her and promised to find out the truth. Among her grandmother’s belongs in the nursing home, Becca found a box with some old photos, a newspaper clipping, an immigration entry form, and a man’s ring. These clues take Becca to a small village in Poland in search of her Grandmother’s past. It is a poignant story of love, survival, and renewal.

Jane Yolen described on her website how this book came to be written:

The idea for an adult novel on the subject of the Holocaust came to me when I was watching the documentary “Shoah” in which the concentration camp Chelmno was described. It was a camp in a castle. Castle, barbed wire, and the gassing of innocent folk. It suggested the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” in a horrible way. Yet I had recently done a YA novel about the Holocaust — “The Devil’s Arithmetic” — and wasn’t eager to visit that awful research again. But when I had lunch with Terri Windling, the editor of a series of adult novels all based around folk tales, I told her about this camp. She urged me to write the book. 

This book won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for 1993, and was a Nebula nominee. It is also a book that is taught in many Holocaust courses.

“…(B)oth the oral and the literary forms of the fairy tale are grounded in history: they emanate from specific struggles to humanize bestial and barbaric forces, which have terrorized our minds and communities in concrete ways, threatening to destroy free will and human compassion. The fairy tale sets out to conquer this concrete terror through metaphors.”
–Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment 

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22 thoughts on “Briar Rose

  1. Les

    Wow. I had no idea that this is what Yolen’s book was about. I’ve heard of it on and off over the years, but didn’t realize it was about the Holocaust. Definitely going on my must-read list. Thanks!

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  2. Rhinoa

    I am really looking forward to reading this later this year. I love the stained glass picture you have of Sleeping Beauty as well as the Zipes quotes. I have read a couple of Yolen’s short stories and really liked her writing style.

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  3. Robin

    Les, it’s quite a story, and well worth reading!

    Nymeth, I can understand why it’s one of your favorites. It was so beautifully written. I’ve decided she’s one of my favorite authors now.

    Rhinoa, I looked at a lot of “Sleeping Beauty” artwork, but thought this stained glass really captured the feeling of the book. You have an incredible experience to look forward to when you read the book later this year! I’ll look forward to hearing what you think about it after you read it.

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  4. Carl V.

    There are certain books by certain authors that I just know when I get around to reading them for the first time that ‘this book’ is the one to start with. I think Briar Rose will definitely be my introduction to Jane Yolen, an amazingly prolific author that I haven’t had the pleasure of reading…yet….

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  5. heather (errantdreams)

    Wow. Jane Yolen is quite the author. Yet another book I should really get around to reading ‘one of these days.’ *sigh*…

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  6. Mary

    I was looking for something the other day and came across this book on my shelf. I took a look at it, thought: “Someday,” and put it back.

    Now I hope I can remember where I found it. Gotta read it!

    md

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  7. Robin

    Carl, Briar Rose is an excellent introduction to her work, but so is her lovely little picture book called Child of Faerie, Child of Earth.

    Tara, it’s worth reading!

    Heather, she’s really prolific! And she writes for all age groups, young and old!

    Mary, yes, you do!

    Jenclair, it’s quite a story, and beautifully told.

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  8. Leila

    It’s funny. I read a ton of children’s and YA lit, and I’ve read very little Jane Yolen. I’ll pick this one up ASAP!

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  9. Robin

    Leila, I had read many of her picture books, but not many of her young adult novels, and didn’t know she had also written for adults. So this is a very enjoyable discovery for me!

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  10. Becky

    For some reason, I didn’t like this one. I think it was a timing thing on my part. I’ll have to give it another go at some point.

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  11. Tasses

    Wow… I thought this was simply a take on the old Sleeping Beauty theme. I had no idea it was a holocaust book. Thanks for the info!

    (jumped over from Bookworms Carnival)

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  12. Robin

    Becky, thanks for stopping by! I can understand how you might not like this story — it was a really tough subject — but I do like her writing and creativity.

    Alessandra, thanks for stopping by! Yes, you should check this one out. Have you read any of her other books?

    Tasses, you’re welcome! I’m enjoying reading all the posts for this month’s Bookworm Carnival, too. Thanks for stopping by.

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  13. Lightheaded

    This review is now making me want to search the bookstores for this and the rest of her books!

    I just read my first Jane Yolen book (well, it was more like she edited and introduced the book with her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple) and I find her highly intelligent, an able writer, with a sense of wonder not to mention a sense of humor as well.

    Oh and I come from the Bookworms Carnival too!

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  14. Amanda

    Great quotes! I’ve been trying to find somewhere that mentions the historical/cultural aspect of fairy tales. Today we tend to look at fairy tales and light and fun. Whimsical. But they had a much more serious purpose when they were used to tell truths or explain the unexplainable. Or simply to remind younger generations of dangers. In many older fairy tales there were no “happily ever after”.

    Future generations will need books like this to remind them of the horrors of the Holocaust. Future generations will not have seen first-hand or have parents or grandparents who were present during those times. But mixing history with a well-known fairy tale may bring the severity of the Holocaust to future generations.

    Thank you for the review!

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  15. tracy

    The book cover alone is very haunting. I will be adding this book to my list. I enjoyed the pictures on the sidebar too:)

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