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.
“…(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